Google is bringing a subtle yet controversial change to its Chrome web browser. Beginning with Chrome 117, secure HTTPS connections will no longer have a padlock icon next to the URL. Instead, users will see a “tune” icon, which looks like the on/off toggles in the average settings menu.
Google announced the change Tuesday on its Chromium blog. According to the company, few internet users know what the padlock icon represents. During a survey it conducted in 2021, Google found that only 11% of users understood the “precise meaning” of the padlock, creating a gap in web literacy that the tune icon will allegedly solve.
Browsers from Netscape to Internet Explorer began integrating the padlock in the 90s when HTTPS (the secure version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP) connections were far less common than they are today. At the time, the padlock was meant to notify people that their connection was particularly secure, thanks to encryption that would help keep outside parties at bay. But now HTTPS connections are the standard, not the exception, and that near-constant padlock icon has faded into the background.
Some non-Chromium browsers, like Mozilla Firefox, use both the padlock and the tune to depict different aspects of secure internet browsing. Credit: Adrianna Nine
In its blog post, Google explains that misunderstandings surrounding the padlock create a ripe environment for careless internet use. A lock implies a level of safety that HTTPS, while relatively secure, cannot guarantee; many phishing sites use HTTPS, but that certainly doesn’t make them safe. Internet users might therefore feel misled if a site possesses a padlock icon but puts them in danger.
Google believes it can clear up this confusion by using a tune icon instead. With two circles and two lines, the tech giant’s variant of the tune looks like an abstract depiction of two toggle switches stacked on top of each other. Rather than implying an often unachievable degree of trustworthiness or safety, the tune invites users to click for more information or browsing options. While users could have always clicked the padlock to reveal permission options, Google argues that the padlock wasn’t “obviously clickable” in the way the tune icon is.
The change will begin with Chrome 117, slated for release this September. While Android will receive the update simultaneously, iOS will lose the icon entirely. Because Chrome is made using the Chromium browser engine, it’s expected that other Chromium browsers—Opera, Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi, and others—will receive similar updates in due time.