Google’s New Toolbar Embeds Links Within Your Website Without Your Permission
Neil Turner, of the popular Neil’s World weblog, reported last week about Google’s new toolbar feature that embeds links within your website content without your permission: Google’s new AutoLink toolbar feature. Although Neil doesn’t think it’s a big deal, outrage abounds elsewhere, such as at Slashdot’s Is Google AutoLink Patent-Pending By Microsoft? where this new feature is compared to Microsoft’s Smart Tags ploy in 2001.
In his article February 17th, Google Emulates Microsoft, Uh Oh, Dan Gillmor relays the similarity between Google’s AutoLink and Microsoft’s Smart Tags. You may recall that Smart Tags also embedded links within websites without owners' permission. After incredible public outcry, however, Microsft actually agreed to not add the feature for Internet Explorer at that time.
I Tried AutoLink to See for Myself
The Google AutoLink toolbar feature is currently still in Beta and only available for Internet Explorer for Windows. Although I don’t use Internet Explorer except for testing websites, I went ahead and installed this Beta version Google toolbar to try the AutoLink feature for myself.
I opened my business website after I installed it. The AutoLink on the toolbar changed its text automatically to “Look For Map” which I then clicked—here’s a screenshot of the AutoLink toolbar with the “Look For Map” feature.
At the bottom of my homepage is my business address, which Google’s AutoLink turned into a clickable link to its own Google map of my business location, as shown in the screenshot below (click the image for the full screenshot):
While a link to a map of a business location could be helpful, I’m strongly opposed to links being embedded within my website without my permission.
Whether those embedded links are added by Google, Microsoft, or anyone else, I feel strongly that it’s not OK to embed links within ANY websites without the express permission of the website owners. I don’t think anyone has the right to alter a website’s content by embedding links like this without the website’s permission. In addition, I can see the exploitation of this technology in far-reaching negative ways.
AutoLink’s Embedded Links Can Steal Away Your Business
Some websites are taking proactive measures to prevent the AutoLinks feature from embedding links within their websites, especially to protect their businesses. The bookseller, Barnes & Noble, for example, most likely after finding that Google’s AutoLink feature was embedding links to Amazon.com’s books for all of their books' ISBN numbers, has now linked all their ISBN numbers to their own website. Without this swift action, their online sales could plummet. See Danny Sullivan’s article earlier today about it at Search Engine Watch’s weblog, Barnes & Noble Overrides Google Toolbar AutoLink.
This underscores to me why I find Google’s AutoLink feature so outrageous.
What Can You Do?
Unlike Microsoft’s Smart Tags for which we could add a
Be sure to also see Jeffrey Zeldman’s post yesterday, Protect your site from Google’s new toolbar.
Rumors: AutoLink Now Reported Not Written by the Smart Tag Creator
Jeff Reynar, an ex-Microsoft employee responsible for Smart Tags, was rumored to have been involved in Google’s new AutoLink feature, at least in part due to News.com’s article Tuesday, Old Microsoft ties to new Google feature. However, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch, spoke with at Google, which he wrote about in his post, Microsoft Smart Tag Engineer Not Involved With AutoLink. So, at least for now, it appears that Reynar hasn’t been involved with Google’s new AutoLink feature, even though he does work for Google now.
Update Feb. 25, 2005
See also my follow-up post, More on Google’s AutoLink Beta Toolbar Feature.
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