Google Safe Browsing: What Is It & How It Works

This is a complete guide to Google Safe Browsing.

Below, you’ll find out what is Google Safe Browsing and how it works to protect users on the Internet from malware, unwanted software, and social engineering attacks.

You’ll also discover how Google warns users and website owners about unsafe content it identifies with Safe Browsing technology. Plus, there’s a step-by-step tutorial with instructions on how to turn on Google Safe Browsing for your devices and an overview of the various protection levels so you know which one to choose for your safety against dangerous sites and applications on the Web.

Google Safe Browsing

What Is Google Safe Browsing?

Google Safe Browsing helps protect users by showing warnings on devices when they attempt to navigate to dangerous sites or dangerous download files. The Google Safe Browsing technology keeps approximately four billion devices safe from malicious and hacked websites and files.

Safe Browsing is a free service that’s publicly available for developers and other companies to use in their applications and browsers through an API. The purpose of this technology is to make the Internet safer for everyone by protecting users against harmful content on the Web.

The following web browsers and products use the Google Safe Browsing service:

  • Brave
  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Safari
  • Android
  • Google Search
  • Gmail
  • Google Ads

How Does Google Safe Browsing Work?

Google Safe Browsing works by examining billions of URLs per day looking for unsafe websites that contain unwanted software, malware, and social engineering attacks. The Google Safe Browsing software also lets client applications check URLs against Google’s updated list of unsafe websites to keep users safe online.

Warning Users

There are two ways the Google Safe Browsing technology warns users of unsafe websites: in the browser or app and in the Google Search results.

When a user has the Safe Browsing software enabled on their browser or app and attempts to visit an unsafe URL that has been identified by the Safe Browsing technology, that person will see a warning page that explains the content they’re trying to access may be harmful.

When a URL appears in Google Search results that the Safe Browsing service has detected to be harmful to users, a warning label appears next to that site in the results. This alerts the user that the URL may be unsafe to visit. If the user attempts to access the URL from Google Search, then a warning will appear in the browser or app explaining that the content they’re trying to access may be unsafe.

Notifying Website Owners

The Google Safe Browsing technology alerts website owners when their sites have been added to the unsafe browsing list by notifying them in Google Search Console, which is one of the free Google SEO tools for webmasters. You can find Safe Browsing warnings in the “Security Issues” tab that’s located under the “Security & Manual Actions” section. Search Console will list the URLs with harmful content along with the specific issues the Safe Browsing service has detected.

You’ll also get information with the steps required to clean up the problem. After the harmful content has been removed, you can click the “Request Review” button to have Google analyze the URL again for safety. If everything is fixed, then the Safe Browsing warnings will be removed from the site in the Google Search results and users’ web browsers.

As for the impact of Safe Browsing warnings on website rankings, Google reports here that “Sometimes sites fall victim to third-party hijacking, which can cause Safe Browsing warnings to be surfaced. We recognize that these issues aren’t always within the control of site owners, which is why we’re clarifying that Safe Browsing isn’t used as a ranking signal…”

Safe Browsing Site Status

You can check the Google Safe Browsing site status for any URL by using the Site Status Diagnostic Tool. This free tool will indicate whether the site is currently dangerous to visit based on the last crawl date.

Note: This diagnostic tool does not check to see if the URL has been indexed in Google’s search engine. The tool only verifies the URL against the Safe Browsing database list. Check out this other guide on how to submit URL to Google if you need help with indexing your web pages.

Google Safe Browsing Warning: Deceptive Site Ahead

Safe Browsing Warnings

Google Safe Browsing Warnings consist of the following alerts when you’re trying to access content that has been labeled as dangerous or deceptive:

  • The site ahead contains malware: The site you start to visit might try to install bad software, called malware, on your computer.
  • Deceptive site ahead: The site you try to visit might be a phishing site.
  • Suspicious site: The site you want to visit seems suspicious and may not be safe.
  • The site ahead contains harmful programs: The site you start to visit might try to trick you into installing programs that cause problems when you’re browsing online.
  • This page is trying to load scripts from unauthenticated sources: The site you try to visit isn’t secure.

How to Turn On Google Safe Browsing

  1. On your device, open the Chrome web browser or app.
  2. Click the More button (…)
  3. Click on Settings.
  4. Click on Privacy and Security.
  5. Click on Safe Browsing.
  6. Select the level of Safe Browsing you want to use.
Safe Browsing Protection Levels

Safe Browsing Protection Levels

Enhanced Protection

  • Predicts and warns you about dangerous events before they happen.
  • Keeps you safe on Chrome and may be used to improve your security in other Google apps when you are signed in.
  • Improves security for you and everyone on the web.
  • Warns you if passwords are exposed in a data breach.
  • Sends URLs to Safe Browsing to check them. Also sends a small sample of pages, downloads, extension activity, and system information to help discover new threats. Temporarily links this data to your Google Account when you’re signed in, to protect you across Google apps.

Standard Protection

  • Detects and warns you about dangerous events when they happen.
  • Checks URLs with a list of unsafe sites stored in Chrome. If a site tries to steal your password, or when you download a harmful file, Chrome may also send URLs, including bits of page content, to Safe Browsing.

No Protection

  • Safe Browsing is turned off. 
  • Does not protect you against dangerous websites, downloads, and extensions. You’ll still get Safe Browsing protection, where available, in other Google services, like Gmail and Search.

Google Safe Browsing Summary

I hope you enjoyed this guide on Google Safe Browsing.

As you discovered, Google Safe Browsing is a free service that helps protect users by showing warnings on devices when they attempt to navigate to dangerous sites or dangerous download files. Safe Browsing technology also alerts website owners when their sites contain unsafe content so they can work to remove it to keep everyone safe on the Internet.