A Chinese national flag sways in front of Google China's headquarters
A Chinese national flag sways in front of Google China's headquarters in Beijing in this January 14, 2010 file photo. REUTERS

Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) may have left mainland China in 2011 after fundamental differences on censorship with the Communist government, but the company’s eponymous search engine is still proving to be a headache for control-obsessed Chinese censors.

The Silicon Valley tech giant announced that it is encrypting web searches in China, in order to protect users from unauthorized surveillance and censorship by government entities or hackers. Google announced that any text entered into its search engine will be automatically encrypted, making the information indecipherable. This new development could render the so-called “Great Firewall of China,” the nation’s infamous online censorship system, useless in tracking Google users’ activity.

The new encryptions will prevent external entities from viewing user activity, allowing users to search China’s “sensitive” search terms, like “Tiananmen Square” or “Dalai Lama,” without detection. But while the encryption adds a layer of protection to users, China can and does control the search results that return.

Google rolled out the added security measures after the U.S. National Security Agency was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden to be operating a data-mining scheme known as PRISM. Google, and other tech companies like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), have announced similar security measures against future unauthorized access from either hackers or state entities.

“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks,” a Google spokesman announced. “Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world.”

Google’s uneasy relationship with Beijing has made encryption a difficult pursuit, while most other users around the world have been able to opt into encrypted searches since 2010. This marks the first time Google has enabled the extra security as a default setting in China.

“This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards,” said the spokesman.

After Google’s official departure from mainland China in 2011 (while still operating freely in Hong Kong), China’s homegrown search-engine Baidu solidified its dominance there. The Beijing-based company, though not state-owned, does abide by government censorship laws, often also using self-censorship.