Consumer Watchdog praised Google on Tuesday for agreeing to offer improved security for users of its online e-mail services like Gmail.

The technology giant in a blog said it would test Secured Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption as the default mode for Gmail users and intends to later offer SSL as a default for all users.

We are pleased that Google is acknowledging the security risk of unencrypted email and plans to take corrective steps, said John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog.

The HTTPS encryption protocol is an option that is currently available on Gmail but users are not using it for failing to know how to turn it on.

Data sent without encryption can easily be intercepted; public WiFi networks are particularly vulnerable.

Google, despite the praise received was also at the same time questioned by the nonprofit consumer group why the company waited so long to act on improving its e-mail security.

We raised this issue with them last fall. In fact, I asked CEO Eric Schmidt about the need for secure email after a speech he gave in November,” Simpson added.

Google's policies, due to its influential size, set many standards for other Internet companies, Consumer Watchdog said, and called on other online companies like Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook and MySpace to offer the same protection.

Secure email must be the rule rather than the exception,” Simpson said.