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AutoLink Toolbar feature looks like SmartTags

 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..



 7:53 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Eventus Welcome to Webmasterworld!

How long do you think it will be before advertising appear on google maps? They would then be rewriting your page to link to their website with advertising they generate revenue from. Don't think so, remember regular SERPS didn't always have advertising.


 7:58 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Some amazing points that do not get voiced enough. They hit the nail on the head.


 8:03 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Google must have anticipated a backlash on this-at least from webmasters. Personally, I like to control the links leaving my site, and am realatively certain that it is my right to do so.

I'm really not comfortable with google determining how to manipulate MY site for "our" users.

Do no evil, eh? Who gets to define the operative word?


 8:08 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Only a company with Google's (current) Teflon image would attempt to pull this off... And even they may take some lumps over it depending on how this plays out.


 8:10 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Whoah- What is Google thinking?

You'd think after the backlash Microsoft got hammered with because of this that Google would be a little more smart about this. In my opinion it's as bad as Norton blocking AdSense and other components of a page. While the intentions may be valid, it's just not right to manipulate another's page.

I agree with the previous post - So what if certain links don't have advertising on them right now, of course they most likely will at some point. This is dangerous. And they haven't added any sort of tag to counter this?

At least Microsoft has a meta tag that would prevent the so called smart tags from being shown.


 8:12 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Current Google Toolbar features:

  • Sends URL details of every page you visit to Google, providing them a link between your IP address to third-party sites.
  • Conducts and stores searches, which combined with your cookie information and the above information enable Google to comprehensively record all of your browsing habits
  • Stores personal form information including credit card numbers (encrypted) with the Autofill option
  • On installation, automatically changes user's default search preferences and browser functionality
  • Scans and rewrites third-party pages to insert dynamic links to Google's own services

    ... and much more.

    Is the Google Toolbar spyware? Talks like a duck, walks like a duck...

    If this toolbar had been built by Claria rather than Google, it would be removed on sight by every anti-spyware product on the planet.

  • Mr_N

     8:25 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    When Microsoft tried this, there were a few scripts developed that could bust the link making abilities they were using. I can't see it taking terribly long for the same thing to happen with Google. Nonetheless, it's not the most sagely decision on Google's part to try this. Even large, corporate sites run by companies worth far more than Google probably don't like the idea of unwanted links showing up on their sites. I think the big boys, just as much as the little guy will be upset by this development.


     8:26 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    I would agree with encyclo that the google toolbar is essentially spyware. But, it's useful to me-personally. However, they're going to have to wine and dine me quite a bit more before I let them edit my source of income.



     8:29 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    microsoft sucks
    google sucks
    corporations suck


     8:33 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    Ya. I wonder how long it will take for the massive outcry.

    Time to find a way to sniff out this toolbar in the .htaccess and refer people to a page telling them about what this toolbar does and means for web publishers? Just like with the norton blocking. A simple re-direct to tell people the problem, and what they can do about it.

    Ads by booooogle.


     8:39 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    Anyone check what the feature does with an already "pre-linked" isbn number towards something else?

    I could be mistaken, but I think you first have to click the button on the toolbar before the autolinks show up?


     8:42 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    No webmaster has any control over the software I install on my computer, or what I do to your webpage once and while it is on my computer. Not only do can you not control it, it's none of your business unless I choose to make it so.


     8:54 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    How many people have actually installed the toolbar and experienced autolink? Because if you had, you may not have such a black/white view.

    I just installed the beta toolbar, and autolink doesn't modify the pages unless the user instructs it to. You have to click a button, "Look For Map", at which point it turns addresses into links to Google Maps.

    This is a far cry from adware for the following reasons:
    1) These are maps we're talking about, not ads.
    2) Adware would've not only modified the page without any user interaction, it would've sent them directly to another page, or popped a new window.
    3) Google users voluntarily installed this toolbar because they like Google. Adware has drive-by installs.
    4) eBay and Amazon both compete with a large number of businesses. They both have toolbars which link users to their websites, but you don't see anybody calling those toolbars Adware.

    I understand where you're coming from and all, but the current reality is that it's not as serious as some of you are making it out to be.


     8:57 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    I agree that adding scum is evil. Let's look at the other side of the argument:

    If Google made their own scummy browser and millions decided to use it, there is nothing we could do to stop them. The user decides what kind of browsing experience they want, and if that includes scum links applied to ISBN#s and e-commerce keywords, then that user has the right to view the web in that way.

    If Google hacked my server and added links to my outgoing HTTP data, that would be criminal. But making a browsing tool that changes the experience of the media without altering the media itself - that's just a user preference.

    I create pages and send them with good intentions to the user - what the user does with it when it arrives is beyond my control. That is the way it ought to be.

    For instance, I might add lots of popups and plugins to my page. If the user blocks those, am I being unreasonable to complain about it? The user might choose to view my pages with CSS turned off. Should I be annoyed by their choice to do that?

    Arguments like those are not valid.
    Integrity of intellectual media is protected by copyright law. The protection of integrity includes changing the context of media to something unintended by the author.

    By putting my written text into the context of a hyperlink, Google risks libel.

    For instance, I used to webmaster a health and wellness site about pelvic health and incontinence, that ranked well for the word "#*$!" (filtered word = a part of the male anatomy). You can imagine the kind of requests we got from automated link requesters for that term. If Google started putting unsolicited hyperlinks around certain words on that site, lawyers would soon be knocking on doors in Mountain View, CA.

    When the googlebar starts scumming websites with paid links, I can anticipate the first roar of dissent will come from WMs, publishers and e-commerce business. Will the public be offended enough to uninstall the Googlebar?

    Scumware links present copyright and legal issues. I'm astounded that Google would try this, given the failure of MS to do the same thing not-too-many years ago. If G tries to get away with it, it is up to us web professionals to make as much noise as possible to fight it.

    Let's see if my opinion changes when I actually see it in action

    [edited by: httpwebwitch at 9:38 pm (utc) on Feb. 17, 2005]


     9:04 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    yes, google toolbar is a spyware in some way, it sends personal information to google. but i still use it and like it. the point is that we allow google to watch our browsing behavior and get back in return better search engine results i believe. google can use toolbar data to measure sites popularity (the way Alexa does) and to get other data that are not obtainable through watching user behavior solely from user's path at google.com. I think all google users (even those that don't use toolbar) benefit from data collected via toolbars.

    it's still up to you what privacy invasion are you willing to take ... you can still decide not to install google toolbar or even don't use google services at all. it's up to you. i won't install some bonzi-buddy-punch-the-monkey spyware but i'm willing to install google toolbar as it provides services i find useful

    and as to modifying site content ... i as a webmaster may not like that google inserts link to my competitors into my content (mentioned ISBN linking) ... but i as a user appreciate it ... and as there is more users than webmasters this approach if going to prevail sooner or later with google or without it ... it's just an alternative to modifying sites' content via *removing* part of it via various popup and ad blockers that noone complains about


     9:07 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    I think that the author has the right to claim this type of linking is a "derivative work" of the orginal page. That probably will be found to be illegal.


     9:07 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    I beg to differ. That word "copyright" allows me to insist my site be viewed my way.

    An example - If a movie theatre owner decided to cut a side deal with Coke and inserted a brief Coke commercial into every movie, the studios would go nuts. This is essentially what Google is doing. They are attempting to profit off of copyrighted works.


     9:13 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    If you go to Yahoo yellow pages and look up business it will take address and reformat it to link to google, after you hit the button. The "map it" link remains the same. I don't know of any examples where the address is the link to test rewritting.


     9:16 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    Will be interesting to see if an ISBN number or an address falls under copyright.

    Also to see what the difference is between pushing a "print" button, or a select text click "copy" and pressing an "autolink" button copyright wise.


     9:28 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    This is the thing - In it's current form, sure it's all good only giving people maps and stuff.

    But again, it's the future potential for using this to promote other products and services which would be the next logical step.


     9:40 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    This is a far cry from smarttags.

    This is a tool. It is installed by users and isn't some sort of trick like others do. People don't have absolute rights over a webpage they create. It will upset webmasters, but it is a tool that users will like.

    It looks to me like I have to hit the autolink button each time I want to scan a page and get a map. If google starts putting links to amazon or overwriting existing links - that is a different story.


     9:44 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    Not sure what G's intent is with this, but the end result will no doubt be monetization. That is, if they get away with it and not enough people cry foul.



    An example - If a movie theatre owner decided to cut a side deal with Coke and inserted a brief Coke commercial into every movie, the studios would go nuts.

    Actually, some theatres do this and get away with it just fine. And have been doing it since the 50s (maybe before) - but there is a clear break between the movie and the ads. Ads at the begining, some theatres insert an "intermission" that inevitably has ads as well.

    The issue with the G toolbar function is that when the feature is activated, that clear break between the published content and the advertising disappears. Or, at the very least, the line is blurred.

    Worse yet, I truly fear for the "relevance" of the links they'll present. From looking at their SERPS lately, and the crummy ads that creep into my adsense from time to time (no matter how carefully I encode my pages to make it as clear as possible what they're about), G just hasn't been doing a great job on the "relevance" front lately.

    And for all those sites that are simply not designed with search engines in mind, the overall relevance of the links is likely to be staggeringly poor.

    There are many, many issues that need to be adressed before they take this to prime time. And about 10 years worth of technological maturation before it becomes truly feasible.


     9:48 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    I agree that as a tool this is definitely useful.

    The problem again is the potential..How long will it take for them to offer "related Froogle searches" or something similar like that to the pages - Or perhaps something that would link to an adwords advertiser based on a keyword on the page.

    I think we all just need to see how it plays out, but it would definitely be nice to see Google put out some sort of page about this adressing webmasters concerns, like an FAQ. And again - an option somehow for webmasters to dissallow these autolinks.


     9:52 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    As long as it's a deliberate user choice (not a default setting), and then autolinking is only connected to addresses=>maps (or similarly direct relationships), I don't think this will cause any grief for users or publishers.

    It's only fair that my address will link to a map to my business. But G must be careful as googlebar steps across the line from "toolbar" to "content editor". If they do it badly, they're going to hear a lot of noise...


     10:04 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    Anyone check what the feature does with an already "pre-linked" isbn number towards something else?
    I could be mistaken, but I think you first have to click the button on the toolbar before the autolinks show up?

    It does not overwrite the link (which it highlights as if you were going to click it), but it will send you to the google proxy link(amazon) if you select it from the pulldown list under "AutoLink".

    And you are right - you do have to press the button


     10:16 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    In order for AutoLink to work, you have to click Show #*$!#*$! Info on the toolbar. Then the string is highlighted and linked. So, by default the web page is not altered in any way.

    But it does bother me that Google chose Amazon for ISBN referrals. I'd feel better if they linked to a <.edu> or <.org>.

    [edited by: sun818 at 10:19 pm (utc) on Feb. 17, 2005]


     10:18 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    Imagine a link out to a comparison shopping engine from your cart page. If I play the serps and I want to get a customer to my cart page I want to own all the on page options. Putting a link in there could absolutely kill my business.


     10:25 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)


    big boo boo by big G


     10:53 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

    When testing this new tool bar with my sites, I find it does link maps to addresses if you click on the button. This is not such a big problem, however it takes the visitor off of my site which is not what I HAD INTENDED. I think it should be up to me if I want to send the visitor gavalanting off to look at a map.

    Furthermore, it highlighted things that made no sense, just a landmark reference without a physical location, however, it didn't place a link there, only highlighted it.

    As to the ISBN, it did nothing to my Amazon links. If it begins to alter my links, they will have a fight on their hands.

    This 168 message thread spans 6 pages: 168 ( [1] 2 3 4 5 6 > >
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