An example of a Google Chrome warning when visiting an unsecure website (screenshot)
  • Some of South Africa's largest commercial websites are now being flagged as insecure by Google's web browser.
  • An update to Google Chrome on Tuesday now means websites not using encryption are aggressively highlighted.
  • Insecure websites will likely lose traffic because they lost their secure status.  

A properly updated version of the hugely popular Google Chrome browser now declares insecure the websites of Vodacom, kulula, EWN, and Unisa, as Google pushes for a safer internet.

In a blog post Google said Chrome’s latest version, released on Tuesday, will now flag every website not using the HTTPS protocol. 

In many typical installs, Chrome will automatically update in the background when new versions are available.

Websites lacking HTTPS by default are also likely to lose ground in Google's important search-engine rankings.

The changes were first announced the changes in May

The list of large and prominent local websites affected also includes the SA Revenue Service, shopping site Loot, and both Wits and UCT.

An example of Google Chrome warning users when visiting Vodacom's website (Screenshot)

HTTPS is an extension of the HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), the standard way web pages are delivered to web browsers. It adds a layer of encryption to the process of browsing the web, preventing a number of common ways internet users are attacked and swindled.

“We hope these changes continue to pave the way for a web that’s easy to use safely, by default,” Emily Schechter, Product Manager at Chrome Security, said.

Charlie Stewart, CEO of marketing agency Rogerwilco, said Google’s new approach does not mean the South African websites are suddenly unsecure. 

“Most of these websites provide basic information on an unsecure part of their site, but if people want to transact, they are directed to an encrypted zone. In most cases, this means credit card and personal information will be protected,” Stewart said. 

A lack of HTTPS will likely lead to a sharp drop in traffic to the websites in the next coming days, he said. 

“After all, if Google tells you to be circumspect, chances are you will be, and you’ll choose to go to a safer environment to book your flight or buy your data.”

The lack of HTTPS is likely to have already cost these websites big in lost sales or advertising revenue, Stewart said.

“Google is very particular about which websites it chooses to showcase in its organic (i.e. non-advertised listings) when people search for information.”

Other international websites affected by Google’s Chrome changes are the UK’s Daily Mail and Sky Sports. 

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