The new Google Toolbar alters your webpages

That’s right, the new Google Toolbar has a feature called AutoLink which rewrites the content of webpages you are viewing by adding links. How helpful of them. But what if you don’t want your webpages changed? Google, in a distinctly unfriendly tone, says you don’t like it, turn it off, besides these links look different from regular links, so what’s the problem? However, as Dave Winer remarked in a podcast, what if in a year or so, Google quietly decides to make the links look the same and not allow you to turn them off. What then?

Google makes money from this. Adding a link to Amazon onto your webpage is not something they do for free. Amazon is paying Google to run their ads, and the website that is being altered without permission is not receiving a dime. This is a Freedom of Speech issue too. Google is altering content others have written, but it’s not their content to change, now is it?

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing has inexplicably been defending AutoLink, saying Does Google complain if you reformat its pages? Nope.

But he offers the flimsiest of defenses, and I’m disappointed in Boing Boing and Doctorow. Yes, Google allows others to rewrite its pages. But none of the examples Doctorow cites does what the AutoLink does, adding external links that sometimes are advertisements. Nor is that even the point! Google can do what they want with their content, but they have no right to add links to other webpages without permission, especially when they’re making money doing it.

In fact, Doctorow himself has gotten bit by AutoLink. Here’s how. He wrote a book, Eastern Standard Tribe, which he graciously made available as a free download. This screen shot of his post about the book has an Amazon link added by AutoLink!

Was it your intention when you made your book Eastern Standard Tribe available as a DRM-free download for anyone who wanted it, that Goggle would make money from YOU? and not share a dime of the proceeds with YOU?

From comes this reasoned, intelligent critique.

Critics point out that with this technology Google is approaching the very thing Microsoft tried to do in 2001 (with Smart Tags.)

1) Per Walter Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal, Smart Tags enabled Microsoft to “edit any page on the web without the author’s knowledge.”

2) They extended Microsoft’s monopoly power into new markets, giving the Redmond giant the power to decide which non-Operating System companies would live and which would die. (Companies Microsoft’s Smart Tags division partnered with would live; their competitors would eat worms.)

3) Not least, Smart Tags were “amenable to nefarious uses, such as covert user tracking”

Google has been a good corporate citizen and outstanding netizen for so long that one wants to give the company the benefit of the doubt. And, to be fair, consumers might derive benefit from Google’s new service — as, indeed, many might have benefited from Smart Tags. But Google’s new toolbar doesn’t solve the three problems cited above. It merely makes Google instead of Microsoft the arbiter of life and death in the information space.

Micro Persuasion weighs in

The question at heart is what right does a user have to change the content of a non-editable Web page they didn’t create? Cory Doctorow says..

“It’s my screen, and I should be able to control it; companies like Google and individuals should be able to provide tools and services to let me control it.”

This made Robert Scoble so mad, he nearly crushed his Channel 9 Guy with his bare hands. Scoble wrote…

“This is such a slippery slope. Do you really want to go down this slope? If you allow Google to do this, you are opening a pandora’s box that you’ll never close.”

I agree with Scoble. This is a pivotal discussion that bloggers, journalists, PR professionals and marketers need to jump into. Do you really want Google, Microsoft, George W. Bush, God or anyone adding links to your content?

There’s other problems too, one of which is specific to political sites like this one. Google Adwords backfires on political sites because it can’t distinguish between pro- and negative- commentary. I stopped using AdWords because when I mention George Bush, the undiscerning Google Adwords feeds Polizeros ads from right wing sites selling Bush t-shirts. I suspect the same process will happen with AutoLink because it, among other things, it is an ad server. However, I do not want Google altering my splendid rants against the neocons by littering them with ads for Dubya coffee mugs, thanks for asking.

Plus, if this noxious idea gets rolling, other toolbars will start re-writing webpages too. You think Yahoo will let Google be the only one doing it? Ha! Not only will other toolbars be “enhancing” webpages, they’ll also do search-and-destroy missions on the content other toolbars have added. Every time you view a page, competing toolbars in your browser will be locked in mortal combat killing each others ads, excuse me, “content”, while adding their own, of course. Far-fetched? I think not. Not to mention that while Google and Yahoo are ‘good citizens’, too many others aren’t. You think the slimeballs who write spyware will be ethical if/when they start offering toolbars that tweak your webpages? Not a chance. 

Also, what’s to stop AutoLink from inserting ads from the competition into a corporate website? Should this happen, I expect the Fortune 100 will become exceedingly grumpy, and that could signal the well-deserved death of the friendly sounding but ultimately Orwellian Google AutoLink.

Flash forward to 2007. A possible Google press release?

Google is proud to announce the addition of AutoGrammar, AutoPolite, and AutoContent to its stable of Enhancement Products for the Internet.

AutoGrammar automatically corrects spelling and grammar errors in any webpage you view.

(I would say, “ain’t that a bitch”, except Google will change it to “isn’t that a bitch.”)

AutoPolite removes profanity from webpages, making them family-safe for all to view.

(Uh huh, So “ain’t that a bitch.” now becomes “isn’t that a quandary”? )

AutoContent removes and eliminates any possible subversive content as part of the Google partnership with the Dept. of Homeland Security to prevent terrorism.

(Of course not, things could never get that extreme, could they? Nosirree, there’s no slippery slopes here.)

Update: Webmasters, here’s how to kill AutoLink  (link via