Confirmation: Google's AutoLink created by Smart Tag Inventor

Thread Title:
Smart Tag Creator Behind Google's New Autolink Feature
Thread Description:

On Thursday last week we reported on Google's AutoLink toolbar feature being remarkably similar to Microsofts aborted Smart Tags scheme some years back.

Now we have it confirmed that Jeff Reynar, an ex-M$ employee responsible for Smart Tags is the man behind Googles new AutoLink.

As many have pointed out, Google may well be able to get away with things that Microsoft couldn't, but im sure everyone will be watching this "feature" very, very closely...


Son of Smart Tags

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck...

I think the war is just starting on this one.

I *knew* Smarttags would come

I *knew* Smarttags would come back, but honestly, I thought MS would be the one to bring it back.

How does this thing work? Are they putting in advertisements for adsense so instead of getting search results, you get an ad?

Well, you know what they say

So, they want to divert traffic from my website to somewhere else.

Is this an example of "don't be evil"?

Diane, they changed the missi

Diane, they changed the mission statement to: "don't be too evil" :)


That's a good one, Mikkel.

I heard

it was "don't get caught being evil" ?

I just

don't get caught using toolbars....

Monday Spin?

I'm wondering if the Google public relations department will go into full spin on Monday over this or if they will run for the tall grass?

I always imagine

Google with one of those "looking innocent but probably guilty" looks that my daughter gives me ;O)

DianeV has

a good post on this

Google already gets free content (websites) around which it can structure ads (Google Adwords); those same websites can run Google ads (Google Adsense). All well and fine, but Google's displaying ads/links/whatever of its choosing during anyone's visit to any website is a step beyond. One can almost hear the justifications now.

My wish: that the W3C org comes up with a generic tag to prevent any type of plaster-your-site-with-my-ads foolishness. Somewhere, someone is going to have to adjudicate the "where the browser and toolbar end and the website begins and thou shalt not cross that line" issue.


It wouldn't be in keeping with Google behaviour so far to ride roughshod over public concerns - not while Page and Brin are running the company, and not some short-sighted short-term profit hungry corporate CEO.

If we do see implementation of such an advertising system, I can only see it happening with webmaster consent - possibly using a specific page-embedded tag with a publisher ID, with the toolbar not displaying ads without such publisher tags being read.

Opt-in, Not Opt-out

I should not have to put one tag on any page to opt-out. The burden is on Google and Google alone, not me - it is Google's mischief and graffiti on my pages. I should have to put a tag on my pages only if I want to allow Googletags.

Additionally, if it does come to advertising, I will want payment. And I should not have to sign any agreements (with or without gag clauses) in order to get paid if they are going to advertise on my site without my invite, permission or consent.

That's why I think ...

That's why I think that this will probably have to be determined by legal channels. (Thanks for the mention, Nick.)

Amusingly, this kind of thing is akin to spamming websites.

..and they call us spammers!

..and they call us spammers! Bah!

according to The Times Online

Google wants Feedback

A Google spokesman told Times Online: "AutoLink adds useful links to a page but does not replace any existing links. This version of the Google Toolbar is in beta, and we're looking for feedback from users to determine if these features are useful."

Times article

The Times article makes a good point of emphasising that Google would be effectively modifying copyrighted content - feedback or not, if done without webmaster consent, what are the legal implications?

Brandt Rant™

Daniel Brandt has a post without too much spittle on it, check out this excerpt:

The reason this has webmasters upset is because Google is essentially changing their pages by adding links where links did not exist before. These links take the toolbar user off of the page. Potentially they are a new source of revenue for Google, because the same technology can be used by Google to link to ads.

Anyone who thinks that Google wouldn't use this to link to ads hasn't studied what Google is doing with Gmail. But there is a bit of a problem with changing a webmaster's page, because altering the content and/or the linking of a copyrighted page would invite lawsuits. Therefore, Google is going more slowly for now, to see if they can start off on this particular slippery slope without too much clamor from webmasters and bloggers. Who can object to more information about a book, for example?

Load up your new Google toolbar and go to Barnes & Noble. Search for a book and go deep enough so that you see the price and the ISBN. Google's toolbar now says "Show book info" because it detected an ISBN on the page. When you click on "Show book info" the ISBN is highlighted. Click on the highlight and you end up at Amazon's page for the exact same book, with Amazon's price for that book. Convenient for users? Maybe. A threat to B&N? Definitely.

Nice observation and a good point made with the barnes and noble thing eh?


I smell a mob forming...

Google, the 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.

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.

Pass me a torch, anyone seen my pitchfork?

Microsoft Research

Microsoft Research has been developing "Aura", a bar-code reader PDA device hooked to central info servers via a browser interface. When presenting on Aura, M$ researchers describe it as a way to return some control in a retail transaction to the consumer.

A specific example was given at the presentation I saw (Harvard Business Club, Seattle Feb 2005) -- the user was in Barnes and Noble, found a book to buy, scanned the UPC and was told by M$ Aura servers that it was available via Amazon for $4 less (reviews were also provided, along with additional web-derived data). The presenter claimed she went home and bought it from Amazon.

Now if I were B&N I might start putting price stickers over the UPC codes. If I were the UPC consortium, I might try and sue M$ for mis-use of the UPC codes or something. Should start writing all ISBN numbers as graphics to block AutoLink?

Lawsuits are certainly the growth area of the Internet, eh?

B&N aren't really worst effected

at least thats obvious what's happening.

if you own a website with book info and making your cash off affiliate links, even if they're Amazon ones, someone using this will bypass your affiliate link.

If you show adsense relating to books on your site how many visitors will click on those ads if there's a direct Amazon link in the text?

If you're an Amazon affiliate using Adsense you should probably pack up now :(

And while you can stop the link in the page (either with the Brandt method or by linking the number internally) the toolbar still gives you a dropdown of to all ISBN/Addresses/courier codes etc on the site which are Google links irrespective of what the ones on the site actually do.

I'm fairly confident they will have to withdraw it but it's amazing that no one at G realised the reception this would get. I wonder what else they originally planned to link but left out for now because they thought it might be controversial?

Not suprised

Google needs growth and lots of $$ to keep shareholders happy, the are going to wring every last $ out of every bit of the web they touch. While they have the blue eyed boy image (that they are rapidly losing) they will think they can get away with murder (collateral damage?). This needs stopping before it goes mainstream, AutoLink == Scumware. What % of users have the toolbar?

If this is what they put in toolbar, can you imagine the evil a google browser could do??


So who's working on a way to block/disrupt the toolbar?

Not possible?

I dont think it would be possible by a website would it? Welcome to threadwatch Yes, do introduce yourself!

well it's easy to detect it

and divert the customer to a page explaining how nasty it is or show a popup :)


Is it possible to detect the toolbar and redirect on the server? You could at least redirect the user to an information page about Google. Might not be a good idea for a merchant site but for a content site it might be a good idea.

Without altering the pages?

>>and divert the customer to a page explaining how nasty it is or show a popup

We were posting at the same time Gurtie. :) Yeah that is what I was thinking only a server script so we did not have to put any code on every page.

And we divert them to a Google is Evil page.

What about hardcore tools

What about more hardcore tools to detect the toolbar? Can ActiveX / js/ popunder detect the presence of the toolbar and refresh the main page to a Google stinks page?

Moving on...

Guys, let's move the conversation over here - This stuff is important i think, and it'll get drowned or missed tacked onto this more general toolbar thread.

I've closed this one, please feel free to continue here

Thanks everyone..

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