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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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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?

12:14 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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is using the script the only way to disable it, or is there a feature in the options menu... thx martini
12:18 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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There is an option to remove it. I really wished they notified us when they update the bar....

jb

12:30 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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/me dont like this.

Fortunatly for me all my site's are dutch, so it doesn't work there... yet!

I'm guessing the javascript is the only solution from a webmaster point of view.
changing the option in the settings of the specific client isn't something you can do as a webmaster now is it.

Now how long will it take them to put that setting to off by default again?!?

12:30 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Previous coverage from when the first beta was released:

[webmasterworld.com...]

So as according to Google it's OK for them to scrape our sites and add their own affiliate links, I assume that it's OK for us to scrape Google results and add our own links?

12:31 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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There is an easy answer. If you don't like the features, remove the toolbar...

It is your machine, do with it as you choose. Just like spyware, if you don't like the effects, del it. Well, if you can :o)

[edited by: Import_Export at 12:34 pm (utc) on Aug. 8, 2005]

12:34 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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It is your machine

It's also my site, and I, as webmaster of that site, don't want those links on there!
And I can't control my visitors browsers now can I?!?

If I want to give my visitors easy access to information like that, I can make those links myself.

12:35 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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You are free to develop a SE and create similar toolbar functions for your following.
12:36 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Interesting. His primary gripe about this is the same gripe I have had with adware apps, SmartTags, Google cache*, and scraper sites: They copy and then repackage copyrighted material for commercial gain without knowledge or authorization from the copyright holder; They provide no means for the copyright holder to block them* (apparently Smart Tags did), nor do they offer any compensation to the copyright holder.

* Yes, I know, you can opt out of the Google cache by blocking Google's spiders altogether. Not much of an option.

12:42 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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ImportExport, I'm not sure you understand this issue fully.

we don't have a problem with our computers, but we have no way of changing the options on the toolbar on the computers of thousands of our visitors. We can't change our visitors' settings, now can we?

12:57 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I hope some big companies / individuals sue Google over this!

Google in effect is inserting their adverts on your website - without your permission. Sites relying on people buying stuff or clicking on ads will lose out as Google will be stealing traffic.

Users navigating sites by clicking on text links embedded within pages (everyone) will become confused - is a link really a link - or a google ad? They won't know until they mouse-over / click on it. Hardly helpful.

Recent findings seem to imply that dvd copying tools and file sharing tools can't hide behind "it is the downloaders/users fault" - so why should Google? Its creating a tool that will manipulate website content without website owners permissions and in many (most?) cases without the user really being aware of it.

1:19 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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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.

Does this mean even if I had turned the feature off in the past, it would have been turned back on for me based on this automatic update? (I don't use G the toolbar so I can't test for myself) If this is the case, I would be shocked. Seems quite evil – to not only change people's chosen settings, but to do it to turn on a feature as borderline as this...

1:20 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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From a webmaster POV, this sucks.

From a users POV, if the link is always *clearly* defined as a Google link, then this could be a useful option. Plus, this isn't automatic, the user needs to click the "AutoLink" button for it to activate on a page.

But there doesn't seem to be a clear way to change the options (other than the maps) within the toolbar. I always get taken to amazon.com for a ISBN number - why can't I go to B&N, or even amazon.co.uk?

1:37 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I wonder if you'll get penalized in the SERPS if you use the javascript to kill the autolink feature.
1:44 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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This is most certainly not a good thing. How can I control what links are now being created from my site?

Google doesn't like people spamming blogs but has not qualms with spamming people's sites.

Google is giving my competitors an advantage on my own site.

Does anyone have that Javascript?

Dayo_UK

1:50 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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>>>Does anyone have that Javascript?

Yes - has this been developed.

Also Google - we in the UK do not pay our licence fee for adverts on the BBC! - There must be a way out of this. And I also pay my hosting company so I do not have unwanted adverts on my site - otherwise we may aswell move to a free host with adverts.

1:59 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I to am totally shocked with this. I thought Microsoft done this several years ago and got into very big trouble, cannot beleive google would risk so much for this.

Perhaps it was an error, or perhaps they will use the excuse 'it was in error' (more likely).

This is the best and quickest way make users dump the bar!

2:02 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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GoogleGuy,
how do we disable this for our sites? I like my site just as it is, no need for free "enhancements". If I wanted that, I'd sign up for contextual advertising, at least I'd make some money while at it.
2:10 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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As a matter of principle, I do not like a third party altering my content, or embedding links in my content with an intent of leading my users to who-knows-where.

Now it is Google trying to peddle business over to some select vendors, tomorrow it could be some smut peddlers or scammers trying to alter/autolink/smartlink my content so as to lead my unsuspecting visitors to their dark allies.

I expect better from Google. I do.

Any suggestions on how do we disable this on our content?

2:10 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Well one thing we all have to remember is that its an option to install or un-install. If users want Google to modify the web sites they view then users have to agree to it.

As far as I can see they still have to click the button for the links to appear so its not just attaching links to any text.

I for one won't have the Google toolbar as I'm tired of them pushing the boundries too far.

I've just visited a book web site that reviews all sorts of books and publishers etc.

They link to some book selling site like many of us do but not Amazon. They also publish the book number in plain text so if a user clicks the Autolink feature then its quite easy for the user to be sent to Amazon to buy the book bypassing the original reviewing web site.

This is still a lot of work for a user, to actually remember the Google feature is there and use it all the time. They still have to click the button to make the link then scroll back down to click it.

I doubt this will affect many, but if Google decided to append links to text without the need to click the button then that would be out of order.

I stopped using Google Toolbar a long time ago! only as a developer am I interested to the overall effect it has upon our sites.

I don't like it, but Google is doing legally nothing wrong in my Book (excuse the pun)

2:13 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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If you don't like the features, remove the toolbar

This is the same argument used by spammers, i.e. just delete it.

The Google Toolbar has now become scumware, plain and simple. And yes, I am sure they will penalize your site if you use javascript to kill the autolink feature. Lowlife tactics.

Google has officially crossed the line. Hey Google, what happened to the do no evil mantra?

Hypocrites.

2:44 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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G spends incredible resources attempting to prevent others from "placing" links in their SERPs. They call SEOs spammers.

At the same time they expend resources figuring out how to turn our pages into "SERPs" that they can monetize for their shareholders.

Is this not hypocracy?

Do no evil...bah!

G is on the road to becoming the Walmart of Search Engines...

WBF

2:52 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Am I missing something? My toolbar isn't updated (3.0.19?).

From ToolBar FAQ:

How do I use AutoLink?

The AutoLink feature adds links to the page you're viewing if it recognizes certain types of information on the page. For example, AutoLink will link a U.S. street address to a map of that address or the tracking number of a package to a status page for your package. AutoLink also recognizes car VIN numbers and book ISBN numbers.

When AutoLink finds information for which it can provide a link, the icon on the "AutoLink" button of your Toolbar will change to reflect the information AutoLink has found. For example, if AutoLink finds a book's ISBN, the icon will change to a book icon. Click on the "AutoLink" button to create a link on the page, or click on the arrow to the right of the "AutoLink" button and choose a link from the drop-down menu.

Just tried it out - always had it turned off here.

If certain elements appear on the page (eg ISBN numbers), then the autolink item gives you the option to toggle the ISBN number into a link (or select from a list of ISBN numbers on the page via a drop down menu).

This is very non-obtrusive IMO. It is entirely user prompted - even when "switched on".

This isn't exactly Gator. :-/

It's books and maps. So what? Seriously. Good for Google! Enough of you have spammed them with affiliate crap over the years - nice to see them take something back! ;)

WTG Google!

MG

2:53 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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A few months ago, I decided to keep my main computers without the toolbar.

Nevertheless, I still want to check PageRank of my sites. Hence, I installed the toolbar in an old Pentium II running Windows 95 SR 2.1, IE 5.0.

So far, I haven't seen the toolbar auto update itself.

[edited by: zafile at 2:56 pm (utc) on Aug. 8, 2005]

2:56 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Google in effect is inserting their adverts on your website - without your permission.

While I am just as surprised (and saddened) by this as anyone, I have a hard time agreeing with some of the statements I'm seeing thrown around here in response.

Chief among my objections to what has been said is this: Google is not touching anyone's websites. The copy on your server remains untouched. Anyone who visits your site and does not have the Google Toolbar installed still sees exactly what they would have seen. And even that is already interpreted by their own choice of browser -- if they use Lynx or something else, what they see will already be different than what you had in mind when you wrote the HTML code.

A user's (informed) decision to display your content in a different way is perfectly allowable.

This parallels discussions happening in many other areas: Tivo's skipping commercials, DVD content-editing services like Clearplay (which was just approved by Congress), and so forth.

Google's failure to inform is a problem. But the actual behavior of the tool is fine.

3:04 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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It could be having other problems, but is the Google Toolbar pop-up blocker just a little bit more agressive as well?

Just noticed a "regular" link to Amazon being blocked.

3:07 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Anybody from the Google PR department hanging around, MarketingGuy? ;)

Seriously, how can somebody not be angry about this? Itīs stealing affiliate comissions, nothing else. Just how long do you think itīll take until this feature will be activated without pressing a button each time? Itīs just one little step to display Adsense ads like this - without sharing the revenue with webmasters.

I have a hard time understanding those "Go, good little Google" post. Google is in no way better or less "evil" than Microsoft or any other larger company - if they can get away with a new way to make money, they will. If it becomes a PR desaster, theyīll back off. These decisions are surely not made on a moral basis.

/Added/
"Google's failure to inform is a problem. But the actual behavior of the tool is fine."

Think of a Google browser. Or operating system. Think where this path leads.

3:19 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Ah yes the wonderfull banter of the online community - if you're not on the bandwagon, you're working for the competition! ;)

I'm sorry, I refuse to raise my pitchfork in anger on the principle of something they may do in the future. As it stands, the feature is non offensive - it's benign. You have to do stuff in order to use it.

And let's not forget we're talking Amazon affiliates here.

There's a huge outcry about loss of income, but:

a) How many of those people are making a sizable amount from Amazon?

b) How many of the visitors to those sites use Google Toolbar?

c) How mant of those will activate the feature and use it?

d) What percentage of them would have purchased and earned you commission?

There's some huge perceived injustice here - but the commerical reality is that this will have bugger all effect on anyone's bottom line.

I'd be willing to bet good money on the fact that a large percentage of Toolbar users are savvy enough to recognise affiliate links and know what it means to Google, the website owner and Amazon.

The only remaining issue is that click through rates may drive traffic away from your site that would have otherwise earned you income. But can anyone seriously suggest that the % of people who will leave and would have otherwise earned you money is going to be so significant?

You're all capable of optimising for keywords, so then just unoptimise for autolink trigger words - addresses, ISBN's, etc. I would view that as a legitimate time expenditure to retain visitors on my site.

Such outcry from the largest collection of spammers on the web! Somewhere, Irony is turning in it's grave. :P

MG

3:22 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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>>>Ah yes the wonderfull banter of the online community

Hey everybody, get that guy!
(mob turns in direction of marketing_guy)
:P

All valid points. While I can't speak for others, in my case I feel it's an intrusion to modify my web page that in some cases were lovingly handcrafted.

[edited by: martinibuster at 3:24 pm (utc) on Aug. 8, 2005]

3:24 pm on Aug 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Hehe nuthin' but love for y'all! ;)

Edit: Yeh I agree MB, but I don't think it's really the huge commercial intrusion it's being made out to be. If it wasn't optional, then that would be a different thing.

[edited by: Marketing_Guy at 3:31 pm (utc) on Aug. 8, 2005]

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