Google is breaking the Web

Tue, Oct 18, 2011 06:09 PM
So, Google announced today that they would start doing a couple of new things. First, they are going to start sending all logged in users to their SSL enabled search page. Secondly, they claimed they are going to stop sending search terms to the sites in the referring URL. They claim all of this for your security. The first one I buy. SSL is better for those people on public wifi, no doubt. The second, I don't think so.

Let's back up a step. For those that don't know how the web works, this is a quick lesson. When you click on a link on a site, your browser connects to that new site to get the page. Part of that communication is to tell the site you are going to what site the user was on when they clicked on your URL. This is a good thing. There is never any information passed between Google and your site. Its all between your browser on your computer and the site you are asking your compter to load. It helps site owners know who is linking to them. In the case of search engines, the referring URLs often contain the search terms someone typed in to find their site. This is also helpful for lots of reasons. None of them involve a user's security.

Ok, so, Google claims they are going to remove your search terms. But, my tests show they are removing the whole referring URL. Yes, you will not know what users are coming from Google. Let me show you. This is what I did.
  1. I typed http://www.google.com/ into my browser
  2. I searched for dealnews
  3. I clicked on the first link, which is the dealnews.com front page.
Using a tool called HTTPFox I am able to see what information is being passed between my computer and the web sites. This is what I see:
  1. http://www.google.com/ with no referring URL
  2. http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=kjrmc&cp=5&gs_id=j&xhr=t&q=dealnews&qe=ZGVhbG4&qesig=YtB_HodN2qCOIiqwx_wetA&pkc=AFgZ2tlle01GJ99f38Ol-HvrY0sbiq4vzJfAPDSXGQ2js5QqyHGJ9-5HIgoFXbUujrU81pfyhEVO8jpmFouC09MG1fRbqd0GVA&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&site=&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=dealn&aq=0&aqi=g4&aql=f&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=7b65204da701ddb7&biw=1295&bih=1406 with no referring URL because Google use javascript to load the search results.
  3. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CCwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdealnews.com%2F&rct=j&q=dealnews&ei=EPOdTtaUN4XOiAKZlIntCQ&usg=AFQjCNEN2YJ8XgSAJm6FOUqK2PuBUOkfxA&sig2=N2jBSsJb8sgPsrTkGgFCfw&cad=rja with a referrring URL of http://www.google.com/
  4. http://dealnews.com/ with a referring URL of http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CCwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdealnews.com%2F&rct=j&q=dealnews&ei=EPOdTtaUN4XOiAKZlIntCQ&usg=AFQjCNEN2YJ8XgSAJm6FOUqK2PuBUOkfxA&sig2=N2jBSsJb8sgPsrTkGgFCfw
As you can see, the request to http://dealnews.com/ was sent a URL by my browser telling that site that Google was linking to dealnews. In that URL you will see q=dealnews. That is the search term I typed into Google. Now, lets see what happens when I do the same thing on SSL.
  1. https://www.google.com/ with no referring URL
  2. Redirected to https://encrypted.google.com/ with no referring URL
  3. https://encrypted.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=kjrmc&cp=8&gs_id=f&xhr=t&q=dealnews&tok=wzChADhZTTjwPuXR1iOwSA&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&site=&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=dealnews&aq=0&aqi=g4&aql=f&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=47f2f62d0e6da959&biw=1295&bih=1406 with no referring URL because Google use javascript to load the search results.
  4. https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdealnews.com%2F&rct=j&q=dealnews&ei=x_edTvjlGeKviQKzmdHqCQ&usg=AFQjCNEN2YJ8XgSAJm6FOUqK2PuBUOkfxA&sig2=OEhW8Z_BhHcCboIzu_Z2zQ with a referring URL of https://encrypted.google.com/
  5. http://dealnews.com/ with no referring URL.
So, if dealnews.com does not get a referring URL, how do we know this came from Google. This is the quote from the Google blog post:
When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won't receive information about each individual query.
I ask you how the site will know that if there is no referring URL? Referring URLs are a fundamental part of the web. If Google wants to strip data off the URL, that is one thing. It is not great IMO, but whatever. But, not sending referrers at all is  just wrong and should be changed.

If you care, please share this post. Tweet it, +1 it, whatever. This is just bad news for the web.

Edit: I wanted to make sure everyone knew, I observed the same behavior in both Firefox 7 and latest Google Chrome

Edit 2: I have also confirmed with the Apache access logs that no referring URL was sent.

Enhance your 404 Pages with Google

Thu, Mar 12, 2009 11:04 PM
I was just poking around the Google Webmaster Tools and came across a neat idea.  Google has a snippet of javascript you can put on your 404 error pages that will give the user more information based on their indexing of your site.  It can offer a user things like a closest match to the URL they were trying to find, an alternative URL, a link to the site's site map and last but not least, a Google search box that searches the site in question.  You have to have your site setup in Webmaster Tools to use it.