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One of the dangers of using public Wi-Fi networks at coffee shops and the like is that anybody else on the network can read your email, Facebook postings, search requests and easily hack into your account unless the data is encrypted.

The most common is SSL encryption using the HTTPS protocol.  If you use it, transmissions between your computer and the website you are visiting can't be read by third parties.

As computer security researcher Chris Soghoian argues persuasively in an article on ars technica, maximum security should be the default setting out of the box.

Google initially offered HTTPS encryption on Gmail as an option, but you had to figure out how to turn it on.  It wasn't particularly easy or intuitive, nor widely advertised. The result was that most people never bothered.  To its credit, Google now offers encryption by default in Gmail.

True, it only made the move after a major hacking incident believed to have originated in China and considerable pressure from privacy activists like Consumer Watchdog. But the Internet giant finally did the right thing. Facebook and Microsoft's Hotmail still only offer HTTPS as an option, not by default.

Google also offers SSL encrypted search; you can find it at this site.

I believe it should be offered as a default.

Based on a colleague's experience today, I think maybe Google is contemplating that idea.  When he entered google.com into the toolbar on a his Safari browser, he was taken directly to Google SSL.  It didn't work when he used Firefox.

It didn't happen for me no matter which browser I used, leading me to believe  the Internet giant's engineers are experimenting as they always are doing.  They should make SSL encryption the default mode for everyone's searches.