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AutoLink Toolbar feature looks like SmartTags
eventus




msg:1102278
 2:17 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

As an online publisher and content provider the AutoLink feature in the new version of the Google toolbar is something that I take serious and direct issue with.

You may recall that MicroSoft tried a similar concept with SmartTags and other companies have released other similar plugins that have come to collectively been called Scumware, Spyware, Adware or Malware.

Gary Price : With "AutoLink" enabled, web pages will be "enhanced" with additional links if Google thinks additional information might be helpful. 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.

I don't want Google, or any other company for that matter, "enhancing" or otherwise modifying the page design, links or content of our pages or other intellectual property without permission and/or compensation to us.

Let's imagine that I sell books online and I list the ISBN number on the pages. AutoLink modifies the ISBN numbers that I list on my ecommerce pages and inserts a link to that books page in Amazon, my competitor... Not Good.

I am sure that this "Feature" has massive commercial appeal and potential for Google. How long will it be before Google starts offering paid partnerships to certain parters to link their data directly from your pages to theirs.

Google may claim this is useful and they will do no evil. How can we be sure? There is much to consider.

How much longer before we just let the web browser rewrite all our websites and pages..

 

grelmar




msg:1102368
 7:26 pm on Feb 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

The other worrysome aspect of this, is that if G gets away with it, then it opens up the floodgates for other ToolBar developpers, and for MS to re-introduce Smart Tags.

A rose by any other name...

Once one of the "big guys" gets aways clean with this, kiss any semblance of content control goodbye.

john316




msg:1102369
 7:32 pm on Feb 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

hmmm

They raise 1.67 bil and all they come up with is a smart tag recycling project.

I'm disappointed in these guys and they got the nerve to say there is a lack of qualified brain power.

surfgatinho




msg:1102370
 8:04 pm on Feb 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

Absolutely outrageous!

It's like putting adsense on your page without asking for permission or paying you.

Total loss of respect for the new corporate G$

john316




msg:1102371
 8:06 pm on Feb 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

When MS did it, it was called scumware, I think.

Maybe we can get a link to that MS Smart tag thread, just for old times sake?

zjacob




msg:1102372
 9:25 pm on Feb 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

Back in June 7, 2001, Walter S. Mossberg of the New York Times had this to say about Smart Tags:

"It's up to a site's creators to decide how many, and which, terms to turn into links, where those links appear, and where they send users. It's part of the editorial process."

That statement applies to the AutoLink feature as well.

Mr_N




msg:1102373
 2:35 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

"It was as a result of a respect for copyright and publisher rights that we made this an elective feature."

Then shouldn't it been something that could be elective by the webmaster, and not the user? Leaving the power to put these links on a page with anyone other than the webmaster (aka the person who owns the copyright) is an act of disrespecting the copyright, no?

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102374
 2:38 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

I have mixed feeling about this new toolbar version.

On one hand, as a Webmaster, I do like to have relatively complete control over how people view my site. I get angry when I think about people using ad blockers to block the AdSense ads on my sites, for instance.

But increasingly, I've been taking a step back. What about the blind? Do they not have a right to "see" my site via a text-to-speech browser? That's certainly not MY voice they're hearing, and they're probably not hearing my ads, either, but...

And what about people who use a program to view my site on a PDA? Oh no, honey, they've shrunk my site! :D Really, though, should I begrudge these folks?

* * *

Another complaint I have about the new toolbar is how it makes the links indistinguishable from the links *I* have set up on my site. Surely Google could make them little green squiggly links or something like that, so it'd be clear to my visitors what links I've made and what links Google has made?

* * *

With that said, though, I respectfully disagree with most of the criticisms that have been made here, and also made in the (IMHO) very amateurishly written and researched CNET article.

First, how many of you folks attacking the toolbar have actually TRIED it? Show of hands, please? ;) If you had, you might have noticed that Google makes the privacy "invading" aspects of the toolbar excrutiatingly clear. "Please read this" it says in big bright red letters, "This isn't the usual yadda yadda." It then goes on to explain what happens if you, the toolbar downloader, affirmatively choose to opt-in to sending your surfing behavior data to Google and it unambiguously states how this information is used (hint: in aggregate research).

That, my friends, is hardly spyware. Not even close, in my book.

Lastly, what's this stuff about "bandwidth stealing"? How the heck is sending people AWAY from your site stealing your bandwidth? That argument has totally flown over my head.

Oh, I lied about the "lastly." Multiman, it'd help your arguments if you didn't call all of us who have positive or mixed feelings about Google "cultists." ;)

figment88




msg:1102375
 3:34 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

"Our relationships with copyright owners and publishers are incredibly important,"

Much of Google's business model is predicated on infringing on copyrights:

1) I'm not even sure search is fair-use. How come search engines get to live in an opt-out world where all other copyright issues are opt-in?

2) discussions of page caching are legendary

3) Google groups - this is mind-boggling to me that they take my mindless ramblings from almost ten years ago and use them them to sell ads.

4) Google images don't just abuse publishers content but encourage hotlinking by others

5) GMail - some how it is supposed to be all right to scan my emails to customers and use the content to insert my competitors ads

6) Autolink, just a continuation of Google getting fat off others others' output.

Seems to me the people who are going to get the most pissed are the othger mapping companies. On my sites where I have addresses, I already provide handy links to mapquest maps.

MultiMan




msg:1102376
 3:41 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

<snip>

[edited by: Brett_Tabke at 9:51 pm (utc) on Feb. 22, 2005]
[edit reason] see tos on flaming and harsh language. [/edit]

Chico_Loco




msg:1102377
 4:32 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Ive emailed SpyBot to ask them to consider adding it to their detection list.

I encourage concerned webmasters to do the same!

bears5122




msg:1102378
 5:34 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Couple more issues and thoughts to note:

Does anyone else feel this could be a sign to Adsense users that their sites could be in trouble. If you are Google, why pay out a % of your content clicks to webmasters when you can simply add them to the page automatically. It Google gets a browser going, it is conceivable that they will add Adsense to the open spaces of every site. Perhaps this is why there has been such a lack of improving Adsense of late.

Also, isn't it conceivable that I place a copyright on my site and terms of service that state any manipulation of my site is prohibited.

Call me crazy, but if I built a toolbar that would place Overture links over all the Google search results, it would be the same thing Google is doing. If I am MSN, I'd create a toolbar that did such a thing. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

communitynews




msg:1102379
 5:38 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Some good points, figment88. Here's my thoughts on them.

1) I'm not even sure search is fair-use. How come search engines get to live in an opt-out world where all other copyright issues are opt-in?

A derivative work that uses only parts of a copyrighted work can be fair use. I think this applies because they only display the title and a snippet.

2) discussions of page caching are legendary

Not sure on this one, perhaps it is illegal. The fact that there is a way to opt-out of caching probably isn't enough. Google probably would be required to remove it if someone with enough bucks wanted to push it with the legal system, although DMCA may protect them. I'll bet if you sent google a DMCA notice they'd remove the cache. They'd probably ask you to use the NOARCHIVE thing but if you told them to stuff it and stop caching without the NOARCHIVE, they probably would.

3) Google groups - this is mind-boggling to me that they take my mindless ramblings from almost ten years ago and use them them to sell ads.

Not exactly sure on this one but it is probably like sending a letter to the editor of a newspaper, you know your work will be published. But I'm not sure.

4) Google images don't just abuse publishers content but encourage hotlinking by others

A derivative work [thumbnail] that uses only parts of a copyrighted work is fair use. The Betamax defense applies to the hotlinking. Because there is legit uses of google images you can't stop it because some use it illegaly.

5) GMail - some how it is supposed to be all right to scan my emails to customers and use the content to insert my competitors ads

The gmail user agrees to this so anything they send is ok to put ads in (if it doesn't contain others work?) but I don't know if they put ads in emails received. Good point.

6) Autolink, just a continuation of Google getting fat off others others' output.

I agree that Autolink is illegal and luckly the Betamax defense probably won't apply because the sole purpose of this feature is to create unauthorized derivative works.

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102380
 5:44 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

About spyware:

From Wikipedia:
Strictly defined, spyware consists of computer software that gathers and reports information about a computer user without the user's knowledge or consent. More broadly, the term spyware can refer to a wide range of related malware products which fall outside the strict definition of spyware. These products perform many different functions, including the delivery of unrequested advertising (pop-up ads in particular), harvesting private information, re-routing page requests to illegally claim commercial site referral fees, and installing stealth phone dialers.

From Webopedia:
Any software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge, usually for advertising purposes.

Buttressed by the above definitions, I strongly feel that:
1) The Google Toolbar is not spyware
2) We, as Webmasters, would be crying wolf to suggest otherwise
3) And we'd be hampering the war on actual spyware.

The key aspects of spyware: surreptiousness, secrecy, lack of permission... all of these are missing in the Google Toolbar.

You can (though I'd not personally) call it scumware, or simply immoral, or offensive to Webmasters. But I've not seen anyone here make a convincing argument to label it as spyware.

Also, on the whole unauthorized derivative works... we'd have to indict all the companies that make Web browsers. I typed in a bunch of HTML code, and Microsoft (via IE) and Mozilla (via Firefox) are rendering my code in different ways. Via various plugins, people can even disable my stylesheets, make my pictures bigger or nonexistent, and so on.

If there's a valid argument (something that'd hold up in court) anywhere here, I'd suggest that it's regarding the cache issue. Then again, wouldn't this also be a threat to AOL, who caches popular Web sites, and even software on personal computers that makes offline copies of Web pages?

On a side note, I noticed that cultofgoogle.com is not taken. So tempting, so tempting, just to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands :D

buckworks




msg:1102381
 5:48 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

If anyone wants to see videos of the toolbar in action, sticky me.

A very tech-savvy friend of mine installed the new toolbar and recorded some of what it does. The button appears in the toolbar by default, although it's not enabled by default.

She typed in the URL of a book publisher and seller, selected a book, and upon reaching that book's page, the button in the toolbar changed and said "Show Book Info".

She clicked "Show Book Info" and immediately the ISBN for the book showed a link. She clicked the link - which highlighted has the google url and a proxy - and guess where she ended up?

At Amazon.com's sales page for the book.

Note that she was diverted from the PUBLISHER'S website, a publisher that also sells books.

She also made a video of what happens when a user follows an affiliate link - in this case, one of my CJ links to abebooks.

If anyone wants links to the videos, sticky me.

She also made a video of Google diverting a user FROM A SITE THAT ADVERTISED ON ADWORDS, although that's not part of our little video collection. We don't know who that affiliate is, though, and didn't want to show their site without obtaining permission.

Google has betrayed us all.

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102382
 5:53 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

So let me see if I understand this.

She was on a page ALREADY about a specific book on a book seller's site. She then:
1) Activated the autolink feature
2) Clicked on a specific link to get more info on that book, even though she was already on a page about that book
3) Was distressed that she ended up on a page of a competing bookseller with info about that book?

Sorry, I don't buy this as a betrayal. Sounds like serving the consumer to me.

"Gee, I'm on Barnes and Noble's site, looking at this book. Wouldn't it be nice if I could get more information on it than I see on this page? Ah ha, I can use the Google Toolbar!"

Sounds good to me.

Now if Google ever started hyperlinking book names or other words on my sites, I'd be rather peeved. I do admit it's a slippery slope, but I prefer to holler at Google if they cross it, not before.

buckworks




msg:1102383
 5:58 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Now if Google ever started hyperlinking book names or other words on my sites, I'd be rather peeved.

There is no difference in the principle here.

There is no other word for it but theft.

And the fact that "the users wanted it" does NOT make it right.

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102384
 6:03 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

And the fact that "the users wanted it" does NOT make it right.

Why? I think this would make for an interesting discussion, albeit maybe in another thread. Again, what about my examples of the screen reader for the blind? Or the PDA-versioning of one's site? Or disabling the stylesheet? All verboten? Should "You will look at this page exactly how we want you to, and you will like it!" always trump "I want to see information presented in a way I'd like to see it?"

Does it matter that Google is a for-profit company? What if Wikipedia made a toolbar that did the same thing?

buckworks




msg:1102385
 6:08 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

The things you mention make presentational changes because of their own technical limitations, but they do not inject substantive changes to the content itself.

And they do not steal the fruits of a webmaster's labours by altering the website's content for the sole purpose of sending visitors somewhere else.

communitynews




msg:1102386
 6:13 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

ThatAdamGuy,

I believe Google is crossing the line of the law.

Copyright law tries to encourge authors by giving them control over their works. It provides for LIMITED "fair use" that allows for using parts of a work for the sake of criticism, commentary, and reporting. Fair use provides a balance between the authors rights and the constitutional rights of public access and free speech.

Taking the ENTIRE work and adding to it for Google's benefit is over the line. The fact it is serving the consumer
doesn't allow for stomping on the rights of the author.

If Google wanted to look for a tag that GRANTED the right to modify the page by Autolink that would be OK but if they try to make authors put in a tag to PREVENT autolink from working that won't cut it.

[edited by: communitynews at 7:04 am (utc) on Feb. 20, 2005]

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102387
 6:20 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

Okay, what about babelfish, which translates Web pages into other languages? That's clearly changing content. Allowed? Disallowed?

Note that, btw, courts have thus far seemingly favored consumers over rights-holders with regards to consumer-initiated content/display customization; case in point: a court case recently came up on the side of company that on-the-fly mutates DVD movies to scrub offensive language and scenes.

Artists and even movie studios were displeased that their art was being transmogrified (to take a word out of Calvin and Hobbes :D)... but consumers' interests were deemed superior to the rights of copyright holders in this case.

But perhaps others here are aware of different cases on relevant matters which have been decided differently?

buckworks




msg:1102388
 6:25 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

That also is a copyright issue of considerable contention. But even so there's a major difference between an individual running a page through Babelfish so they can get a sense of what a page might mean, and Babelfish systematically pouncing on other people's content to intercept their visitors.

In this discussion, let's not forget about Amazon betraying its affiliates, too.

communitynews




msg:1102389
 6:29 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

A court held that a book of trivia questions based on the television show Seinfeld was substantially similar to the show itself and therefore could be treated as a “copy” of Seinfeld. The court also held that the trivia book damaged the producers market for derivative works. Even though the producers hadn’t explored the market for trivia books based on the show in any way, they might do so in the future.

Now it very may well be that many people wanted a bunch of trivia questions about Seinfeld but this didn't allow someone to create it.

sun818




msg:1102390
 6:40 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

> If Google wanted to look for a tag the GRANTED the
> right to modify the page by Autolink that would be OK

Looks like an affiliate opportunity here. I can see this falling under AdSense. Amazon (or other competitors in rotation) pays Google for each click-through and the web site owner gets a percentage. For consistency, AutoLink would have to work on all web sites. I guess this means any click-through not attributable to a specific AdSense account gets re-distributed to all the registered AdSense accounts. :)

(yeah right...) - I can see first part happening, but not the second.

communitynews




msg:1102391
 6:58 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

sun818, I hope you are right and Google pays adsense publishers to do this. In fact, they could just change the TOS for AdSense and make all AdSense publisher accept it or drop out of the program.

They still can't do it to non-AdSense sites but it still would be a big market. Maybe they would allow advertisers to bid for links on specific words or phrases.

zjacob




msg:1102392
 7:07 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

One of the differences between, for example, translations and autolink is that Google does not profit from the derivative work of translations, but does so with autolink.

With autolink, each click away from the original content to a Google property (or their associated partner property) has a price attached to it, already now, as traffic has always been one of the measures in valuing internet businesses.

In essence, autolink turns each website (with autolinkable content) into an ad space, already now, without the compensation to the content owner.

The value of each click away from the original content could be determined by, for example, comparing how much current bids are for the contextual ads on a page with autolinkable content.

What's worse, currently no webmaster can opt-out from providing this free ad space.

ThatAdamGuy




msg:1102393
 7:16 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

What's worse, currently no webmaster can opt-out from providing this free ad space.

Would you feel better about the toolbar if Webmasters could easily opt out? It'd certainly make me feel better about the whole issue.

zjacob




msg:1102394
 7:29 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

ThatAdamGuy,

yes, I'd feel better if I could opt-out.

But to be honest, I'd feel much, much better if Google would fairly compensate for each autolink click.

And fairly to me means the average bid for a contextual ad on a given page.

LadyLinuX




msg:1102395
 9:16 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)


So let me see if I understand this.

She was on a page ALREADY about a specific book on a book seller's site. She then:
1) Activated the autolink feature
2) Clicked on a specific link to get more info on that book, even though she was already on a page about that book
3) Was distressed that she ended up on a page of a competing bookseller with info about that book?

Sorry, I don't buy this as a betrayal. Sounds like serving the consumer to me.

"Gee, I'm on Barnes and Noble's site, looking at this book. Wouldn't it be nice if I could get more information on it than I see on this page? Ah ha, I can use the Google Toolbar!"

Sounds good to me.

It's not quite so simplistic. In each example, when visiting a page containing an ISBN number, the button changes to indicate "Show Book Info", and when clicked, creates and highlights a hyperlink to Amazon.com's page to buy that book, over the ISBN, where previously no such link existed. In some cases, this places the Amazon.com buy link higher on the page than the bookseller's own cart button.

It behaves this way :

1. On the Oreilly Publishing website (they sell the books they publish)
2. On the abebooks website after clicking from Buckworks' Books page - meaning she risk losing her commission, and abebooks loses a sale when the buyer is already ON their site.
3. On Barnes & Noble's site, where the ISBN number is below the fold of my laptop, it will actually scroll the page to the section where the highlighted Amazon.com link is created.


Now if Google ever started hyperlinking book names or other words on my sites, I'd be rather peeved. I do admit it's a slippery slope, but I prefer to holler at Google if they cross it, not before.

Functionally the same thing - instead of linking the book title, it hyperlinks the ISBN number of the book. I'm sure you'd be peeved if you were an AdWords advertiser with a bookselling site and the ISBN numbers on your website became hyperlinked to Amazon.com with the click of a button. One such case is documented in the footage; it's a comparison-shopping book site, AdWords advertiser, that displays the ISBN for the book being viewed at the top center of the page, below which is a list of about 20 partner/affiliate (ie commissionable) links to merchants. With the click of a button, the first link out becomes the ISBN link via Google's proxy to Amazon.com; meaning the guy's just lost whatever the click into the website cost him, to Google and Amazon.

If I were an Adwords advertiser and sold books on my sites, I'd be demanding some of my money back.

surfgatinho




msg:1102396
 11:55 am on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

What's next? Overriding existing money related links on peoples pages!?

I have to admit to not having seen the bar in action, I don't want to install it on principle. I would be interested in the settings and how it is explained to the user.

Also there is a matter of scope. What triggers the links - ISBN numbers - yes, what about place names or does it have to be "place name accommodation"?

Interesting to see G$ being used to refer to Google has become commonplace since the introduction of the tool. Hard not to think of them as G$ since they are one third Time Warner AOL now.

nonstop




msg:1102397
 12:38 pm on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)

What's happend? has google sold it's soul?

LadyLinuX




msg:1102398
 3:22 pm on Feb 20, 2005 (gmt 0)


What's next? Overriding existing money related links on peoples pages!?

The beauty of it is they can accomplish essentially the same task without having to do that - by identifying common alpha-numeric data in the page and using it to create their own links in your page.

Some of the possibilities include highlighting and linking UPC codes, manufacturers' part or model numbers, Swan catalog numbers, commonly identifiable alpha-numeric data found in technical specifications - such as parameters for RAM modules (512MB SODIMM) or other PC specs.

Every time I ask myself the question - "Would Google really do that?" Afterall, the function is currently limited to mapping and ISBN's. While I can't answer in the affirmative, I can't say no either; because if Google's intentions with linking book data were truly altruistic and if they truly wanted to help the user, they'd be linking ISBN's to Library of Congress or libraries with volumes to read online, not a commercial entity.

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