Google is changing Chrome’s lock icon because no one knows what it means. It will be replaced by a new icon later this year so that users don’t get the wrong idea about how “trustworthy” a website is.
The padlock sign that shows a website is safe has been in the URL bar of web browsers for so long that it’s almost like it’s always been there. This is why Google plans to remove it from Chrome later this year. The search giant announced on Tuesday that the lock will be replaced by a new “tune” icon when Chrome 117 comes out in September. This is part of a larger update of the browser based on the theme “Material You.”
More than just “prettying up” Chrome is behind the update: Google says that in a study it did in 2021, only 11% of the people who took part actually knew what the lock button was for. It first showed up in the 1990s, after Netscape released HTTPS, a protocol that lets users share sensitive information like banking information and login credentials safely over the web by encrypting them. So, when browsing a website with HTTPS, the lock icon would show to show that the network link was safe.
When HTTPS was new and people needed to learn more about its benefits, that made sense. But now, over 95 percent of Chrome pages loaded on Windows use the protocol, so it’s the preferred connection. Google thinks that users might mistakenly think that the lock logo is a sign of trust or reliability in general, which could be dangerous since HTTPS doesn’t protect against scams like phishing.
To get around this, the lock will be changed with a version of the tune icon that is often used to show control menus. That symbol doesn’t falsely scream “trustworthy,” and it also encourages users to click through and find out more about their security and connection settings, which, according to Google’s study, not many people knew how to do. The new tune icon doesn’t get any other new features, and it will still mark plaintext HTTP as insecure on all devices, no matter how few of them there are.
Google has changed the lock icon before, so this isn’t the first time. It was redesigned in 2016 to take away the colors and give it a more neutral look. In 2021, the company said it was “re-examining” the design again, even though it had originally planned to replace it with an arrow going down. From a user interface (UI) point of view, I think an arrow might have been a better choice here since it makes it clear that you can click on it to see more. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that the tune sign was a slider control, but maybe other users are more observant.
Chrome’s current lock icon on PC and Android will be changed at the same time in “early September 2023.” On the other hand, Google will remove it from Chrome on iOS, where the lock button couldn’t be tapped. Users who have access to the Chrome Canary channel, which is an experimental version of the browser used to test early releases, can turn on the Chrome Refresh 2023 flag to see how the new tune icon looks. However, Google says that the feature is still being worked on and could change before a final release.