Tuesday, August 11, 2009

 

Security, privacy, and an inconvenience

Redirects are often discussed only in the context of search engine optimization (SEO). Here is a good example how redirects affect users as well, and why it is important to choose your redirects wisely.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2006 began serving its Website encrypted in an effort to improve security and privacy of the communication.

This is a clear case for a 301 redirect from the unencrypted URL http://www.cia.gov/page to the equivalent encrypted URL https://www.cia.gov/page. Instead, except for the homepage and very few other pages, all requests get redirected to a splash page informing visitors about the site changes:

CIA Site Redirect. CIA.gov has changed its Web address. CIA.gov is now encrypted, except for our Electronic Reading Room, to assure visitor confidentiality. As a result, the Web address for pages and documents in our site has changed from http:// to https://. In addition, CIA Careers has moved to a new location within the Web site. Please use the links or the search form below to find the information you seek. …

Not only is this a bad idea for search since all those links out there on various sites now transfer link weight to a splash page which is marked as non-indexable. It is also an inconvenience to users who need to navigate to the specific content or go back to the previous page and try again with an edited link.

Even the old URL for the World Factbook, arguably one of the most popular resources on the site, no longer goes to the desired World Factbook homepage directly.

The CIA press release states: “We believe the inconveniences of implementing SSL for the entire website will be offset by increased visitor confidence that they are, in fact, connected to the CIA website and that their visits are secure and confidential.”

The effort to increased security and privacy is commendable, and encrypting all communication with the agency certainly isn't a bad idea. Doing so without the inconveniences would be even better though, and perfectly feasible, too.

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