Google … beware the Dark Side!

A little while ago, Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion wrote about a new feature in Google’s browser toolbar that uses a feature called ‘Autolink" which performs a similar function to Microsoft’s SmartTags:

Google today launched a new version
of its toolbar that employs a new feature called Autolink that turns
non-linked content on Web sites into hotlinks back to Google properties
and other sites. Gary Price writes

For example, say your browsing a web page with numerous
addresses on it. AutoLink will turn each of those addresses into direct
links to the Google Maps database.

In addition to addresses, it will also add links for ISBNs, package
tracking numbers, and vehicle identification numbers. This all has Greg
Linden a bit spooked. I agree. How come nobody is crying foul here? Remember all the heat Microsoft took over its planned Smart Tags feature
a few years ago? Gary alludes to it, but I think that there should be
more discussion here. Let’s face it, Google is to the Web what Microsoft
is to PCs – the operating system everyone uses to search. It has nearly
the same lock on consumers’ share of mind (sorry Yahoo). And millions use the Google
Toolbar. They shouldn’t get away with what Microsoft was unable to.
It’s not fair and it shows that no matter what Google does, they can do
no wrong in the eyes of the American public – at least for now. Could
you imagine the uproar if Microsoft had tried this with the new MSN
Toolbar Suite

Of course any association of Google with Microsoft and its plans to take over the world are immediate cause for concern.  After all, Google is the good guy!  Isn’t it?  Rubel’s post kicked off quite an energetic discussion which was picked up by a number of sites.  CNet made a couple good points and highlighted some of the concerns about the use of this feature in the Google Toolbar:

The technology dredges up a long-simmering legal debate over who owns
the desktop. Does the consumer have the right to install software that
can manipulate the appearance or delivery of Web pages? Or does the Web
publisher have the ultimate say and control over how its content is

Dave Winer, over at Scripting News, put together a document presenting arguments against this technology (as well as any similar technologies).

After a few days reading comments both pro and con, trying out the
software, thinking, I put together this document which explains why
authors and publishers should tell Google to back down. Their toolbar
takes a step down a treacherous slope, that changes the way the Web
works as to make commerce, journalism and scholarship impossible. It
will render agreements entered to on the web null and void. It invites
Microsoft, with it’s virtual monopoly in browser, to do the same, to
the detriment of the market, and even Google itself. In the current
political climate it seems unlikely that the Department of Justice
would intervene if Microsoft chose to match Google. The feature is
poorly thought out, clearly breaks with Google’s culture (there’s no
opt-out, even the search engine offers one).






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