By Scott Campbell
Google is encrypting searches in China in an attempt to prevent surveillance by state agencies and hackers.
The search giant said that all text entered will be made indecipherable automatically, in a move that could render the “Great Firewall” – China’s infamous internet censorship system – useless for tracing the activity of Google users.
Encryption will prevent government censors from detecting when users enter sensitive search terms, such as “Tiananmen Square”, but China could still choose to block the search engine altogether.
Last October, documents leaked by Edward Snowden claimed that the US National Security Agency had hacked links between data centres operated by web giants including Google and Yahoo.
A spokesman for Google said: “The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks. Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world.
“This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards.”
Users in most countries have been able to opt in to search encryption since 2010, but this is the first time that Google has enabled the security measure by default in China.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said at an event last November that he believed censorship could be eliminated within ten years.
He said: “First they try to block you; second, they try to infiltrate you; and third, you win. I really think that’s how it works. Because the power is shifted.
“I believe there’s a real chance that we can eliminate censorship and the possibility of censorship in a decade.”
Google, which faces strong competition from native search engine Baidu in China, clashed with the country’s authorities in 2010 over search result censorship demands. The company currently holds a 1.6pc market share of all searches in China.