Google has recently announced a significant change to Chrome’s lock icon, aiming to enhance user comprehension regarding website security while browsing.

The iconic padlock symbol, which has long been associated with secure connections, will be replaced by a new “tune” icon with the release of Chrome 117 in September 2023. This redesign aligns with Google’s Material You-themed update for the browser, focusing on improving user experience and avoiding potential misconceptions about website trustworthiness.

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Understanding the Motivation:

Google’s decision to update the lock icon goes beyond mere aesthetics. In a study conducted in 2021, Google found that only 11 percent of participants accurately understood the intended purpose of the lock icon. Originally introduced in the ’90s, the lock symbol indicated a secure connection when browsing websites using HTTPS encryption. However, with over 95 percent of Chrome webpages on Windows now utilising HTTPS as the default protocol, the lock icon’s meaning has become misconstrued, potentially leading users to attribute trust or reliability solely based on its presence.


The Tune Icon: A More Contextually Relevant Design:

To address these concerns, Google will replace the lock icon with a variant of the tune icon commonly associated with control menus. Unlike the lock symbol, the tune icon does not overtly convey “trustworthiness” and encourages users to explore their security and connection settings for further information. Google’s research indicated that few users were aware of the additional information available through the page controls, making the tune icon an ideal replacement. The new icon will continue to mark plaintext HTTP as insecure on all platforms.


Considerations and Future Development:

This is not the first time Google has revised the lock icon. In 2016, a redesign removed colors to create a more neutral appearance. In 2021, Google mentioned plans to re-examine the design, initially considering a downward-pointing arrow. Some may argue that an arrow would have been more intuitive for expanding options, but the tune symbol was chosen to represent a slider control. While the tune icon’s purpose may not be immediately apparent to all users, it provides an opportunity for improved user engagement and awareness of security features.


Timeline and Compatibility:

The new tune icon will be implemented simultaneously across desktop and Android versions of Chrome in early September 2023. However, on Chrome for iOS, the lock icon will be removed entirely since it was non-tappable on that platform. Users interested in previewing the new tune icon can enable the Chrome Refresh 2023 flag in the Chrome Canary channel, a testing environment for early releases. It’s worth noting that the feature is still under development and subject to potential changes before the final release.


Stepping in the right direction

Google’s decision to retire the lock icon in favor of the tune icon represents an important step in improving user understanding of website security in Chrome. By replacing a potentially misleading symbol with a more contextually relevant design, users will be encouraged to explore additional information about their security settings. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, it is crucial to ensure that users are well-informed and empowered to navigate the online world securely.

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