Google users can now search the Internet using SSL encryption to hide search terms from prying third parties.

Available as a beta service, the new 'https' Google search site sets up an encrypted tunnel between the user’s browser and Google as a way of making it impossible for search results to be intercepted by third parties such as ISPs.

The service will have some limitations. Anyone using image or map searching will not be protected, and the company admits that using the service will slow down searching.

Accessing the service will also mean visiting a defined URL,, so that requires checking whether the service is defaulting to one of a range of national Google search pages first. If in doubt, users should look for the SSL padlock symbol which will be part of the Google logo on the new service.

What does that look like? Go to Google’s site to see.

The privacy will not be extended to Google itself which says it will still gather data on searches for its own uses. The company’s privacy policy is published on its website.

Google already uses SSL encryption on other services such as Gmail and Google Docs.