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Google Toolbar AutoUpdate Includes AutoLink Feature On

Are Webmasters Losing Control of their Websites?

7:26 am on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Google forced an update to their toolbar that activated an autolink button feature by default. What this means is that this button, when activated, will allow Google to place links on your web page to Amazon, among other places.

The autolink feature has been controversial [theregister.co.uk] since it came out. In fact, there's a javascript for killing google autolink, which indicates how much webmasters are against the autolink feature.

It's surprising to see Google pushing this onto toolbar users like myself who don't want it. Unlike non-webmaster users, they may not know how to disable it.

Does Google's use of your website exceed what you feel comfortable with?

5:31 am on Aug 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

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The amazon affiliate link is not the whole picture. Amazon has a significant stake in Google. So making Amazon traffic bigger benefits one of the big owners of Google.
10:41 am on Aug 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

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...even if Google hasn't crawled a site its toolbar searches the page and, if it finds any relevent (map, SIBN) info it does invite a user to leave the site he is browsing for Google's imposed and unindicated location.

Google, I have looked over your AutoLink feature from tip to toe, and as much as I like most all of what you've done until now, this time I think you've overstepped the line. An 'opt-in' tag is required here, as you give the webmasters whose sites you rely upon no question in the matter. With AutoLink you are not only taking for granted site owners and their work to make the web content you are linking from; your behaviour in this case is frankly undemocratic.

3:12 am on Aug 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Auto links stinks and so does the tool bar, which seems to keep pushing it even when you unclick that option.

I couldn't read the whole thread, but if it has not been mentioned, the code to block it on your site is at "auto links script dot com"

5:28 am on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Whew! I haven't had time to read all 19 pages, though I've skimmed through a lot. And in the interest of offering some balance, I'll note that I like the autolink idea, though I'm less pleased with its implementation.

Some thoughts, in no particular order:

- Visits to my Web sites are a privilege, not a right. If people want to leave my sites, then I guess my sites weren't very interesting or useful to begin with.

- Assuming informed consent, my visitors know what their interests are better than I do. If they want to install the Google Toolbar AND want to press the autolink button on a particular page, that's their choice, and I respect that.

- I've found the autolink feature to be useful. I've already used it quite a number of times on pages to get driving directions by having an address highlighted.

- I do think Google should make it easier and more transparent for its toolbar users to customize the behavior of autolinks. With that said, though, I think there's always going to be an element of unfairness; what about no-name-mom-and-pop bookseller? Then again, if a Webmaster really cares about a particular bookseller, he or she should affirmatively link to them.

- While I think Google has no obligation to offer a Webmaster opt-out, I think it would be courteous and wise for them to do so.

- I believe that Google continues to do a very poor job in communicating its goals, its practices, and so on. While I have a lot of respect for Google's engineers (and disclaimer: I personally know one of the G Toolbar folks), I am increasingly disappointed that Google seems either unable or unwilling to enter into thoughtful dialogs with Webmasters on topics like this. GoogleGuy is a good start... but not sufficient.

- I'm quite pleased that Google FINALLY made autolinks look different than normal links. This is key in ensuring that such links do not create confusion.

- Several prominent Googlers have noted that no money changed hands between Google and Amazon and so on. I believe them.

- I think the slippery slope argument is completely specious ("If Google does this now, then other less-savory folks will imitate and..."). If someone foists autolinks on consumers without their specific knowledge and consent, for instance, then that's the fault of that company, not Google.

- I completely agree with SeanW: "As a webmaster, all you own is the content of the page. The user owns the presentation." Right on. If people want to read my sites on their Treo, that's great. If they want to have wikipedia links placed on top of the text of my sites, more power to 'em. If they want to translate my site into Klingon, may they live long and prosper.

I went to eBay with autolink turned on. I found some books people were selling and sure enough the ISBNs were linked to Amazon. If I was selling those books I would be upset. If I was eBay I would be upset. Presumably, eBay knows about this and have not sued Google over this (yet), so presumably it is ok from a legal standpoint.

I think it's great. If I'm on ebay and I see that a particular book is being sold, but I want to know more about that book (see reviews, etc.), why shouldn't I, as a consumer, have the right to use Google's handy tool to quickly jet me over to Amazon's page? I owe absolutely nothing to Ebay or that particular seller. It's MY Web browser, MY time. If I then want to buy that book from the ebay seller, great. If not, oh well.
6:20 am on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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No, no no. Your arguments promote the "Oh, life's unfair anyways" grey - this thread is about making things black and white.

First off, what about those mom and pop booksellers? You seem to insinuate that it's somehow normal that Amazon get first dibs on a book-searcher. I say each could have his fair chance - and the toolbar does everything but that. Web-browsers are frivolous creatures and will always choose what's first in front of them. That's what the toolbar is all about.

My content their display - fine, but it gets even simpler. My website, my handle on how and my page is shown. Should I not want certain visitors, I block them. Should I want my website to be readable on cell phones, I adapt new stylesheets to that purpose. Slow connections fast connections flash noflash, the same. If I do none of the above, that means I don't care. I do care. I take pains to tailor what users see in my pages.

AutoLink is not a "back" button. It gives the viewer the option of a) altering my content to b) whisk him away to SERP's where Amazon is king - even if Google had never crawled my pages before - and that perhaps because I wanted it that way. Do you get me?

12:03 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Visits to my Web sites are a privilege, not a right.

It's a privilege to the visitor, and anyone who grants a privilege to someone else has the right to require them to pay for it. In some cases, that may mean viewing your site's ads. In others, it could be considering your products for purchase. AutoLink, while possibly not outright defrauding the site owner (such as AdBlock for Firefox does) still is a step down the wrong path. It's taking your work and turning it to someone else's advantage.

5:29 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Tivos/DVRs modify someones else's content for user convenience. Google is doing the same thing, the difference is they are doing it for profit. Imagine if the next generation Tivos were free BUT they removed the broadcast TV commercials and replaced them with their own. Exact same scenerio. You think the TV folks would let that fly?

If a user wants to personally modify my content for his/her own use, thats fine with me, but when a third party wants to modify my content to generate profits for themselves, thats too far. The whole idea that google isn't getting paid a red cent to send customers to amazon or anywhere else is ridiculous. If they replaced amazon with directions to your local public library, then I might believe they were doing this for the good of the people.

This 187 message thread spans 7 pages: 187