February 18, 2005 2:06 PM PST

Google toolbar move raises online ire

Google's browser toolbar is raising eyebrows over a feature that inserts new hyperlinks in Web pages, giving the Internet search provider a powerful tool to funnel traffic to destinations of its choice.

When Web surfers install the toolbar in their Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser and click the AutoLink button, Web pages with street addresses suddenly sprout links to Google's map service by default. Book publishers' ISBN numbers trigger links to Amazon.com, potentially luring shoppers away from competing book sellers such as BarnesandNoble.com. Vehicle ID licenses spawn links to Carfax.com, while package tracking numbers connect automatically to shippers' Web sites.

Google shouldn't get away with what Microsoft was unable to.
--Steve Rubel, blogger, Micropersuasion

Google, the world's most widely used search engine, denied that the AutoLink feature is an attempt to control which destinations Web surfers visit. People can already choose between several map services, including Yahoo and MapQuest, and choices for book retailers may be added in the future, a company representative said on Friday.

Nevertheless, some critics charge that AutoLink takes the liberty of modifying Web pages to direct people the way Google sees fit. Microsoft took the same approach with its Smart Tags feature years ago and eventually pulled it because of trust and trademark concerns.

"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...And millions use the Google Toolbar. They shouldn't get away with what Microsoft was unable to," Steve Rubel wrote on Wednesday on his Micropersuasion blog.

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 displayed?

The argument is central to lawsuits in the adware industry. Many Web publishers and e-commerce companies have filed suit against application makers like Claria, formerly Gator, and WhenU for using their software to deliver pop-ups advertising rival online stores at the point of purchase. While many such cases have settled out of court, there have also been some mixed jury rulings. Some judges favor the copyright owner, and some favor technology.

"If I'm on Company A's Web site, and a third party is allowing me to direct me to Company B, there will be some controversy over who controls whose information," said Richard Purcell, former chief privacy officer at Microsoft, who's now CEO of Corporate Privacy Group.

A BarnesandNoble.com representative said the company is reviewing Google's new toolbar technology and is in discussions with Google about it.

Google's director of Web products, Marissa Mayer, said her team had a healthy debate about how the feature would work before it was

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70 comments

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Stupid argument
This is crybabies attempting to stiffle innovative new ideas, talking about lawsuits to get themselves publicity.

In a sense, what they're doing is no different from what they accuse Google of. Profiting -- or helping others -- to profit from a third-party's work.

It's a user-initiated function. You don't have to download the toolbar, you don't have to click the button.

Stop all the crybaby ballyhoo and get a real job doing something productive.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who the hell is Steve Rubel?
This is a perfect example of blogging gone mad. CNET, if you
want to be a credible news source, don't quote blogs. Get a
quote from an industry leader (no disrespect Steve). At least put
his title and company name in the story, for bloody sake.

As for my point of view, if you don't like Google's technology,
than use someone else. This is now where close to the same lock
Microsoft has on operating systems. You have hundreds of
choices, none of which cost money and are only a click away.
Why not give MSN, Dogpile, Yahoo, or any number of other
options a try.

PS. CNET maybe next time you can quote me in your article.
Posted by ca5ter (176 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yahoo....Google....5yrs? Search Portal N....repeat...repeat....
It's the millions of people that give this company (Google) all this power to do this.

Sure, you don't have to install their software onto your IE but the people who are...are not the people reading this site.

They have about as much choice as they do when they hum the latest catch phrases from Geico commercials etc.

This is a sneaky tactic used by a powerful company taking advantage of newbies.

American capitalism at it's best.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
A whole new world
With all the news out there, anyone who gets a computer but does not know how to NOT install a toolbar when prompted, is sleeping.

Google's toolbar does not implant itself without permission. I don't have to click the banner ads on a Yahoo, About, or Angelfire page, so I don't have to click them anyplace else either.

It's tough out there in the ether, but people really need to learn to take responsibility for what they do willingly. Having large corporations or governments constantly trying to "separate the children" is quite tiring.
Posted by (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sound a dirge for Google?
This is the face of the alien invader, showing its face through our old buddy's fading features, like the image of an alien bursting through a human shell in a sci-fi film.

We turn in screaming horror, knowing we can never trust our own eyes on this friend's face, again.....

Oh Steve McQueen, where are you, now?
Posted by (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My Content!
Currently Google says there is no commercial use of this technology but I'm sure it's their intent and justifiable so given their stock price. The tool can be enabled or disabled by the user but the issue at hand in my minds eye is the content does not belong to the user nor Google. The content is the creative work of the person or organization that created the web site. I find it personally problematic that Google can place content for competitors into my content with out my permission or knowledge. Effectively this can provide the user the idea that they are shopping with the same web site. I don't think many user fully understand the features and functions of toolbars and this adds to the confusion. I'm all for innovation but I do not want to see this innovation stomping on my creative works. Anil Dash indicated that text parsing and Bayesian techniques could give users additional links on information contained in content is a good thing. I totally agree with this however it should not be masked or disguised as part of the original content. Instead it should be offered in a pop-up pane or a separate pane in the window.

On a personal note I have never been fond of these toolbars and find them extremely annoying. First, they take up valuable screen real estate and second they take up system resources. If you want to be able to conveniently search a variety of search sites directly from your browser without visiting the sites check out Fire fox, it even has pop-up blocking.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://russ.johnsonville.net" target="_newWindow">http://russ.johnsonville.net</a>
Posted by russ960 (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds vaguely familiar...
Check out...

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.doxdesk.com/parasite/TopText.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.doxdesk.com/parasite/TopText.html</a>
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Facts
Everyone seems to be up in arms about the new Google Toolbar but I don't think most have even picked it up before putting it down.

Here are the facts :

1. The toolbar has to be installed first before it can do any autolinking.
2. Autolinking is off by default so it has to be turned on after installing the toolbar.
3. The toolbar does not change existing links, only text that is not currently linked.
4. The toolbar has the option of choosing which map service you would like to use; Google Maps, MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps.
5. VIN numbers, although rarely found as plain text, link to CarFax's website and show the vehicle details.
6. Tracking numbers go to the corresponding companies package info page. These are also rarely found as plain text except in emails.
7. ISBN numbers take you to Amazon's website and show the book details. This will make a plain text ISBN a link to Amazon even on Barnes and Noble's website.
8. Its a beta release.

Except for # 7 there is nothing wrong with what the Google Toolbar does. It has to be chosen by the user, turned on and does give options and behaves nicely. Google should give the option to choose which service you want it to use for the VIN and ISBN detailed information. Other than that I don't know what all the fuss is about.
Posted by scott.cropper-2045595817941659 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"We promise not to do anything evil"???
I don't trust any company whose philosophy is predicated on the assumption that corporations are inherently evil. All they think they have to do is offer up a holier-than thou (or is that leftier-than-thou?) attitude, and that gives them a license to do anything, no matter how unethical or anti-competitive. Thhppptptpt to Google!
Posted by Neo Con (428 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Caveat Emptor
What ever happened to Let the Buyer Beware or Let the Freebe Beware. There is too much paranoia about all this stuff. If you want to use the product, use it, if not, then don't. We should know the pros and cons and make our own decisions. You cannot legislate morality. Those guys from Google are making millions and as always is the case many people are jealous. If they come up with a better mousetrap, more power to them. As long as it is not illegal, they should continue innovating. They are providing search technology that one day will permit us to search every book and quote in every journal and library. The value to education is enormous. They have to make money some way to motivate them. I would prefer surf engines and software to bombs and toxins and war. So much worry about these Internet things and not enough worry about death and war and spirituality. As a child of the 60s and 70s I have read much and listed to many musical poets and see that the little has changed. We still are driven by materialism and greed and directed by the scientist/priests (Moody Blues-Question of Balance). I am glad some young Americans at Google are proving that the Average person in American still can become a millionaire without being a decendent of Standard Oil or Halburton, or RCA. Thank God for American innovation and technological advances and the Indians and Chinese that help make them happen (LOL).

Peace and Prosperity to All
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
i can't wait until spyware starts using this...
to change links on trusted web pages.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Some more thought required by Google.
This is yet another attempt to herd browsers to certain sites and "partners" chosen by Google. The only thing I see this leading to is trouble for the search engine. Effectively re-writing the web for those who installed their software and redirecting them to their own choice of providers is dictatorship at its most mediocre.

A few words of advice to Google: If you want to keep this 'feature', give back what you have taken away - choice. Surely the software could be tweaked to have a preferences dialogue box that allows the user to choose their preferred online book or music retailer. How about a drop-down menu so that it is possible to choose whether the links go to Amazon or somewhere else? Categorize the links and give people the option to turn off highlighting on certain categories too (for instance I might not want every flower related word taking me to Interflora).

Oh..

localize it too please.
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google = Microsoft?
We appear to be witnessing a werewolf in mid-change. Google seems to be travelling the same route as Microsoft. Not to long ago they were innovation darlings. More and more they are perceived as trying to monopolize the web? Is this accurate? Probably not, but perception is 9/10th's of reality. Interesting, don't you think?
Posted by dougjake (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cease and Desist Order Issued
The first Cease and Desist Orders have already been issued. Copy and resubmit.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.okario.com/assets/google_cd.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.okario.com/assets/google_cd.pdf</a>
Posted by Salvalus (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give consumer OPTIONS
It should be consumer configurable

give me the opportunity to say what sites I want autolinks for

I'd probably allow googlemap but if it didn't do what I want then I should be able to specify mapquest or yahooMaps instead of just turning it on or off

Same reasoning for other link sites

and cudos if they allow me to configure any site access I choose when my configurable conditions come up.. like if a book is mentioned I'd like it to link to my book club or library website to see if in stock or going to be sceduled for a talk ETC. without Google needing to know the place(s) I've got links to.

So much for dreaming...


At least give more options than toggle on/off
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Off by default?
The article clearly states that you have to *click* on the Autolink button to activate it. I don't believe it's on by default.

So whats the problem? Don't want Autolink? Do not turn it on!
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give up control
if you think about RSS, semantic web, and most of the direction of innovation in web technologies, you are seeing more and more places where "control" over content is being "taken" away from the content owner. Not IP rights, or anything like that, but the presentation and navigation layers. This is just another example of that.

For example Trillian has a feature in its IM client that underlines items that are listed in Wikipedia. A silly feature but I've found it useful once. ;)

My point is that there are many features like this, such as "MapIt" which is a Firefox plug in that lets you select an address and then it will take you to mapquest right away.

I don't see evil here at all. I see options for users that better improve their abilities to get the information that they want/need. Why is doing so something bad for the content owners. In fact, the total brand experience might be positive.
1. I went to X site to find what I was looking for
2. And low and behold, I found it.

Users are going to put 1 &#38; 2 together and not really care that they didn't actually find it on the first owner's site.

- dave
Posted by (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Comment to Google
I think Google rethink this stratigy it's a bit intrusive and might do the Google brand that we all love so much some harm. See <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cosmopod.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.cosmopod.com</a> for a better aproach to advertise so close to the desktop.
Posted by iqula (59 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Have you tried Toolbar3?
I downloaded Toolbar3 and confirm that the hoopla and ranting about AutoLink is just that. For those that want the truth, I suggest that you try out Toolbar3 and see for yourself what in will and will not do.

My observations:

1. AutoLink is disabled by default.

2. Enabling AutoLink does NOT automatically create links. The user has to click on AutoLink button to create links. When a user visits a site, the page is displayed as intended (unless they have selected to override fonts, colors, or style sheets).

3. Clicking on AutoLink will not necessarily change the content or code of a web page. In fact, when items are highlighted, the original code is not changed - confirmed by using the "view source" option in IE.

4. Currently, the user can choose from three map web sites (Google, MapQuest and Yahoo).

5. To the media: stop listening or interviewing bloggers without first verifying their rants. By not verifying their rants/fears/points-of-view you perform a disservice to the media sector.
Posted by mousky (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New Google Bar is Spyware
This new Google tool bar could ruin Google. That would be a shame. While I think their intnetion to help the user is pure, what they are doing is deciding for that user, which company is best to service their need. Changing the content of a web page that user has chosen as a destination is dangerous enough, but then linking them to a competitor's site that sells the same product in a misleading way is an awful choice for Google to make. This screams conflict of interest, and is why a tear can be shed for missing the non-public Google. See what $$ does to what was the best we had. The decision to deploy this manipulative and unethical spy bar will be one of regret.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
you mean google, like AlGore, didn't invent the internet?
I'm in control of the content I see, thanks. I don't need the fuzzy "thinking" of the liberalists at google "helping" me, nor do I want more ads! Less ads seen is always better for me!!
Posted by (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Auto-Linking found throughought my site
Question.....I recently discovered certain words on some of my site's pages that contained hyperlinks to external searches and ultimately, sites to mine. When hovering over the link, it pops-up a box with information that leads to what appears to be a random site...and in the status bar of the browser in says "In search of: [and states the word that is hyperlinked]". I have been told by that this could be caused by installing the Google Toolbar.......I have never installed nor used the Google Toolbar on any of my equipment. What else is causing this, is this a form of site hi-jacking....the strange part is that my code shows nothing visible that leads to any explanations. If somebody knows I 'd appreciate help with this problem. Thanks.
Posted by dcyphert (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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