Why Is Google Against the URL

The web might see some drastic changes coming.

Hey readers, this is Theciva’s irregular tech newsletter where I break down some deep stories around the web.

This one is based on Google Chrome’s latest beta features that show that’s also Google’s another step in removing the URL bar in Chrome.

Google Chrome’s Dev and Canary 85 builds which are the browser’s beta versions show a new flag (a feature that’s being tested) that hides the full URL of any website from sight. URL are web addresses like google.com or apple.com.

Hiding full URLs means Chrome will only display the domain part of the URL. For example, example.com/folder/page will be shown as example.com.

If you’ve some time, I recommend you read the full story. It’s much better.

I'll read the full story

If you hurry, I’ll sum it up for you. (But you’re missing on a lot)

Why Is Google Messing Up The URL?

There’s no official word from Google on this but the reasons must be similar to the ones Google gave when it first started tweaking the URL.

This takes the story to 2019 when Google turned 10 and rolled out a Chrome redesign. It also then updated the URL bar of Chrome to hide URL prefixes like https:// or www..

Google claimed it made Chrome simpler and more accessible to the masses.

The prefix https:// before any web address signifies better encryption and privacy than one that begins with http://. (notice the s)

Unlike now, the web, then, mostly ran on HTTP. But Google wanted the “internet to be more secure” and so it placed a “Not secure” warning in Chrome for every HTTP page.

Google also stopped including HTTP pages in Google Search results.

Thus, the whole web was forced to use HTTPS.

It was the first time when Google told us why it hates URLs. Here are the reasons:

Hard to read formatting

Back in the day, web addresses were as simple as https://example.com/page but not today.

URLs now have loads of senseless texts and numbers that make it long, unreadable and confusing.

Chrome’s engineering manager, Adrienne Porter Felt told WIRED, “People have a really hard time understanding URLs”. And this complexity of URLs also confuses people on which part of it should be trusted.

URLs aren’t a good way to convey site identity

Porter says “… in general I don’t think URLs are working as a good way to convey site identity.

She says, “So we want to move toward a place where web identity is understandable by everyone—they know who they’re talking to when they’re using a website and they can reason about whether they can trust them. But this will mean big changes in how and when Chrome displays URLs.”

Security concerns

Long and senseless URLs also help cyber criminals by confusing non-tech savvy users. These crooks can imitate websites of legitimate institutions, launch phishing schemes, hawk malicious downloads, and run phoney web services–all because it’s difficult for web users to keep track of who they’re dealing with.

Will Hiding URL Solve The Problems?

Apparently, no. But there seem to be some new issues rise:

Take the example of Medium. Medium lets writers create publications the URL of which is of the form medium.com/PublicationName. But with Chrome full URL hiding feature, it will be shown as medium.com. This can cause two problems:

  1. If a Medium publication published good content, the publication will not get the credits as the URL will show only Medium, not the publication’s name.

  2. If a Medium publication publishes offensive or false content, and readers will see Medium.com on the URL bar, they will be much less likely to visit Medium again. This will ruin Medium’s reputation.

If Not the URL, then What?

Even Google doesn’t have an answer yet.

Porter Felt says, “… the group notes that the goal isn’t to upend URLs haphazardly but to enhance a vision that is already in place, given that entity identification is foundational to the overall security model of the web.

You can’t have a sure word on it yet. Maybe Google changes its mind to let the URL live and find some other way to convey site identity and security status. Or maybe Google pushes this update and after a week or two of frustration, people start adopting (and maybe liking) this way of the Internet.

Maybe Chrome will use Machine Learning to figure out which sites are genuine and which aren’t. And instead of the URL bar, all you will have will be your browser telling you which sites to visit and which do not.

Would you like that?

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Kunal Mishra