Microsoft's long-dead and much-maligned 'Smart Tags' technology
have cast a shadow over Google's latest toolbar.
toolbar for Internet Explorer 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. Vehicle ID licences spawn
links to Carfax.com, while package tracking numbers connect
automatically to shippers' websites
world's most widely used search engine, denied that the
AutoLink feature is an attempt to control which destinations
web surfers visit. A company representative said on Friday
that people can already choose between several map services,
including Yahoo! and MapQuest, and choices for book retailers
may be added in the future.
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
"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
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 ecommerce 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 favour the copyright
owner, and some favour technology.
former chief privacy officer at Microsoft, who's now CEO
of Corporate Privacy Group, said: "If I'm on Company
A's website, and a third party is allowing me to direct
me to Company B, there will be some controversy over who
controls whose information."
representative said the company is reviewing Google's
new toolbar technology and is in discussions with Google
of web products, Marissa Mayer, said her team had
a healthy debate about how the feature would work before
it was implemented. She said the group didn't consider
comparisons with Microsoft's pulled Smart Tags feature.
But she said that AutoLink was designed to ensure people
remain in control.
"This is a user-elected feature. Upon
clicking the link, we make these modifications the way
you'd like us to modify the page," Mayer said.
"Google has great respect for copyright owners.
They're the lifeblood of search."
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