Security

Google AutoLink Raises Concerns

A new beta (Toolbar Beta 3) from search giant Google has raised concerns that users are being directed to specific commercial websites rather than being given the option as to where to go.

Under the spotlight is Google's new AutoLink feature.  What AutoLink means is that if you visit a webpage that contains an ISBN number the toolbar can automatically create a link to Amazon.com.  If it finds a car license place, it can create a link to Carfax.  If it finds a DHL, FedEx, USPS or UPS tracking number, it can create a link to the shipping company.  If it finds an address, you can make a link to a map.

The problem with this is that some users are concerned that Google's dominant position in the search engine market means it will be giving a massive competitive edge to firms like Amazon.

Here how it works with ISBN numbers in webpages.  This is a snag of a page on our site before I click the AutoLink button:

And here is is after I click on the AutoLink button - Note that there is a slight delay while the toolbar does its stuff.

Is this a problem?  Honestly, I can't see how it can be - you choose if you want to use the toolbar or not, choose if you want to click the AutoLink button and the choose if they want to use the services offered.  There is no forceful push to compell user to click on the AutoLink button, the button just makes it convenient to find resources on the web.

How often does it need to be said - people have a choice.  To use the toolbar or not, to use Windows or Linux, to use Interent Explorer or Opera of Firefox, to use Windows Media Player or Real Player or any of the alternatives.  True, most people will choose the path of least resistance but making it easier for them to find an address or buy a book isn't really a bad thing (neither is giving them a media player and internet browser with the operating system on their PC).  It's all about choice.  Opponents argue that bundling is a bad thing but I disagree - Would you want to buy a car in kit form?  A PC?  Should the cost of an airline flight be broken up and you have to arrange and pay for all the parts separately?  Should you expect American to book you in on a BA flight?  Ford to put a Honda engine in your car?

Also, did the same people now complaining about AutoLink complain in the same way when they noticed that the Opera browser allowed the user to search Amazon.com?

I like the new toolbar - I don't know if I will continue to use it as I know that things tend to wear off with me, but one thing is for sure, no one has put a gun to my head and forced me to download it or use the features.



Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
Last updated: Feb 22nd 2005
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