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Microsoft to encrypt Bing searches by default

Already available as an option, the new default encryption will ensure that your Bing searches and results will be protected from prying eyes, including advertisers.

Bing will encrypt your searches by default starting this summer. screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft is changing the security encryption on its Bing search engine from an option to a requirement.

In a blog posted Monday, the software giant announced that starting this summer, all web traffic coming from Bing will be encrypted by default. Such encryption has been available as an option since early 2014, but only if you specifically typed the secure URL https://www.bing.com as your destination. The new default setting means that you'll automatically surf the site as https://www.bing.com instead of http://www.bing.com.

What does the default encryption mean for you? Your queries will be encrypted, making them secure from hackers and other people who may try to eavesdrop on your searches and results. The new default also means something to advertisers and webmasters, who can use your search queries to try to glean certain information about you. With the default encryption in place, Microsoft will still pass along a "referrer string," which tells advertisers and webmasters that the search traffic is coming from Bing. But to protect your privacy, Microsoft will not pass along the search terms you use in your query.

With the move to default encryption, Microsoft has finally caught up with Google and Yahoo, which turned on the feature in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Of course, like any search engine, Bing depends on advertiser dollars to generate revenue. So advertisers and webmasters will still be able to garner certain information using Microsoft's Search Query Terms Report and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Accessed through the Bing Ads UI (user interface) or through the Bing API (applications programming interface), the Search Query Terms Report tells advertisers which search queries led to certain ads and how many clicks and impressions those ads generated. Another tool called Universal Event Tracking can show webmasters and marketers the total number of pages per visit, the duration per visit and other data associated with a specific search query. Finally, Bing Webmaster Tools ensures that your website is indexed in Bing so that you can determine which searches are bringing people to your site.

Like many online companies, Microsoft has to walk a tightrope between pleasing its advertisers and protecting the security and privacy of its users. The company promises that the limited data available to advertisers won't compromise the security of its users.