Google recently announced that it will retire the padlock icon, which indicates website security, from Chrome in September 2023. It will be replaced by a tune icon as part of a wider Material You-themed redesign of the browser. The new icon aims to prevent users from misconceiving the padlock icon as an overall indication of trust or reliability.
Reasons for the Change
Google conducted a study in 2021 and found that only 11% of participants understood the intended purpose of the padlock icon. The icon first appeared in the ’90s following the introduction of HTTPS, a protocol that allows users to safely send sensitive data such as banking information and login credentials via the web through encryption. The padlock icon was displayed when browsing a website using HTTPS to signal that the network connection was secure. However, over 95% of Chrome webpages loaded on Windows are using the protocol these days, making it the default connection. As a result, Google believes that users may mistakenly believe that the padlock logo is instead an overall indication of trust or reliability. This could be a potentially dangerous thought given that HTTPS doesn’t protect against things like phishing scams.
The New Tune Icon
The new tune icon that will replace the padlock icon is a variant of the tune icon that’s often used to represent control menus. This symbol doesn’t misleadingly scream “trustworthy” and has the added benefit of encouraging users to click through and access more information about their security and connection settings. According to Google’s research, few people were actually aware of this function. The new tune icon isn’t getting any additional features otherwise and will continue to mark plaintext HTTP as insecure on all platforms.
This isn’t the first time that Google has changed the lock icon. It had a redesign back in 2016 to remove colors from the icon in favor of a more neutral look, and the company said that it was “re-examining” the design again back in 2021, though it had initially planned to replace it with a downward-pointing arrow at that time. While some may argue that using an arrow may have been a better choice from a UI perspective, Google believes that the tune icon will be more effective in educating users about security and connection settings. The new icon will be rolled out on desktop and Android in September 2023, while it will be entirely removed from Chrome on iOS.