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Google is planning to do away with the lock icon from the Chrome browser due to users’ misunderstanding of what it means. The tech company said that many users think the icon means a site is trustworthy whereas it only denotes Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) encryption.

HTTPS Does Not Mean Trustworthiness

HTTPS, which was introduced in the 90s, is a protocol that allows users to safely send sensitive data such as banking information and login credentials via the web through encryption. The lock icon, therefore, means that the network connection between the browser and the site is secured by HTTPS and that it cannot be tampered with or eavesdropped on by third parties.

However, according to a study done by Google in 2021, only 11% of internet users understand the actual meaning of the lock icon. The larger remaining group believed that the icon indicates trustworthiness, which is not the case as phishing sites also use the protocol and thus have the icon.

The misconceptions about the lock icon are so widespread that many organizations, including the FBI, publish explicit guidance that it is not a sign of a secure website.

While the icon worked well at the beginning when HTTPS was new and users needed to understand its use and benefits, it has more recently lost its meaning as 95% of web pages on Chrome use HTTPS as their default connection.

Introducing The “Tune” Icon

In place of the lock icon, Google intends to use a variant of the tune icon, which has two circles and two lines meant to represent the toggle switches, commonly used to indicate controls and settings.

“Based on these research results from ourselves and others and the broader shift towards HTTPS, we will be replacing the lock icon in Chrome with a variant of the tune icon. We think the tune icon: Does not imply “trustworthy”, is more obviously clickable and is commonly associated with settings or other controls,” said Google.

According to Google, by substituting a neutral indicator for the lock icon, the misconception that the icon signifies the trustworthiness of a page is dispelled and emphasizes that security should be Chrome’s default state.

“Our research has also shown that many users never understood that clicking the lock icon showed important information and controls. We think the new icon helps make permission controls and additional security information more accessible, while avoiding the misunderstandings that plague the lock icon.”

The new icon is set to be launched in Chrome 117, which is scheduled for release in early September, as part of the Material You-themed redesign, a general design refresh for desktop platforms.

The tune icon will not spot any new functionalities but is instead expected to continue flagging plaintext HTTP connections, as few as they may be, as insecure on all systems. Users may still access additional information about the site’s HTTPS certificate and a few other site-specific settings, such as those for alerts and location sharing, by clicking the icon.

Android devices will also receive the update when desktop devices do but the lock icon will be completely eliminated on iOS and iPadOS as it is not clickable.

This will not be the first time the lock icon is changed as it has undergone updates through the years. In 2016, the symbol underwent a facelift to eliminate colors in favor of a more neutral appearance. In 2021, the firm announced that it was “re-examining” the design again, despite its initial intention to do so by adding a downward-pointing arrow.

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