SAN FRANCISCO — Google is wielding the power of its dominant Internet search engine to push more websites into protecting the people using their services.
The move involves a change in Google's closely guarded formula for determining the rankings of its search results.
Websites that automatically encrypt their services will now be boosted higher in Google's recommendation system. For now, encryption will remain a small factor in Google's ranking formula, but the Mountain View, Calif., company says it may put greater emphasis on the security measure in the future. It wants to make it tougher for government spies and computer hackers to grab the personal data of unwitting Web surfers.
Users can tell if a website is encrypted if its address begins with "https."
When websites are encrypted, it's more difficult for interlopers to sweep up data transmitted over unsecured Wi-Fi networks in homes or widely trafficked areas such as airports or stores.
Online security is a hot-button topic. In the most recent scare, online security firm Hold Security this week revealed that it had discovered a gang of Russian hackers has stockpiled more than 1.2 billion passwords stolen from more than 400,000 websites.
Google has a vested interest in making people feel more secure online because the company makes most of its money from ads that are shown next to search results and other Web content. If people were to become leery of Web surfing because of security concerns, it could crimp Google's profits.