Google has started to encrypt searches made by people in China, as part of a wider attempt to inhibit government spying around the world.
The move is largely seen as a reaction to continuing revelations about the extent of surveillance of web browsing habits by the National Security Agency (NSA)- but is also an attempt to break into lucrative markets (such as China) that are state censored.
Google said it was now encrypting all the text involved in searches “by default” around the world.
The latest move sees the internet giant counter the censorship system known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’.
Using this, the Chinese government intercepts searches to check for prohibited phrases such as ‘Dalai Lama’ and ‘Falun Gong’, using its findings to target possible dissentors.
Under search engine’s the new encryption, this may no longer be possible, and Google hopes this will encourage Chinese web users to switch to its services from the likes of Baidu to Google.
Google reduced its presence in China in 2010 after it clashed with the nation’s authorities over demands to censor searches or redirect people to government-approved sites. This has meant that Google has a very small share of all searches, about 5%, carried out in China.
Most Chinese people tend to use the home-grown Baidu search engine that does comply with official censorship requests.
This option is already in place in some countries, such as users in the US and UK, who can chose have had the option to encrypt searches since 2010.
“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks,” said Google spokeswoman Nikki Christoff in a statement.
Christoff said encrypting search text was just one of many improvements it had made in the past few months to help people maintain their privacy.