Google, Gator - Gator, Google - SNAP!


Over the weekend, in the relative peace and quiet of a typically newsless period, Threadwatch members continued to chew over the implications of the new Google Toolbar Beta that sports the much talked about Autolink feature. In fact, we've talked about it a lot:

What i'd like to do here, is summarize some of the more interesting points made about Google Autolink in our latest discussion: Google's Statements on Toolbar Autolink. In particular, the comparisons made to Google's statements and those of Gator, which was eventually forced to rebrand as Claria

Comparing Google's Statements to Gator's

Jill Whalen first broached the idea that Ms Mayer, Googles consumer products manager, statements on the Autolink feature were particularly reminicent of Scott Eagle's statements of a few years back with the so dubbed Spyware program Gator.

Check out the similarities
Marissa Mayers statements are summarized here. You can find them in the context of Danny Sullivans report here.

Gator said..

Gator says its practices are legal because consumers agree to receive the ads when they download and install its software

Google says...

We tell people it's not the 'usual yada yada' and we are very up front, we make sure our users are really informed that something going to happen, because we want to have the trust of our users."

Gator said...

Does the consumer have the right to download and use software that gives him alternatives and could save him money? Or does the wireless phone provider get the right to control that consumer's computer screen? It is the user's computer, the user invited the wireless carrier site onto his screen, the user invited Gator to help with forms/passwords. The user in this case valued the alternative promotion Gator offered on behalf of the advertiser

Google says...

"Are we really taking traffic away from them? Think about what they've [users] have done. They've been looking at the page. They've decided there's a piece of information on the page. They had to get the idea that they wanted to get more information some way. They clicked a toolbar button, and then they clicked a link. That's a pretty determined series of user actions. It seems to me that that user is going elsewhere anyway,"

Gator said...

"We get lots of angry calls; maybe even an attorney calls up because they're angry," said Gator's Eagle. "We explain it's the consumers' right because we're invited onto the desktop. We're not changing their content; we're popping up on the consumers' desktop. Don't they advertise on TV showing competitor comparisons? The only difference is that we're more effective.

Google says...

"It's an interesting balance to strike, but we're going to weigh more heavily on the user side," Mayer said. "We think we struck the initial balance in a reasonable way. The publisher's page is seen as intended in the browser. It's a user-elected action that changes things. Beyond that, we aren't driving all traffic to Google."

That's very telling in my opinion. The same arguments were used by Gator a few years back, they too playd the "it's for the users" card for all it was worth. It's a shame that some otherwise seemingly intelligent people do not seem to be able to get past the "Google is all pink and fluffy" idea. Wake up boys, this is about business, not the user.

The quotes were provided by cornwall and PaulH. The relevant sources can be found in those links.

Step away from the Toolbar, and nobody will get hurt...

Google is a business. Let me just repeat that for the terminally stupid: Google is a business - There, got that?

Almost all of Google's revenue and growth rely on Adwords and Adsense. As again pointed out by cornwall they cannot sustain, or maintain that level of growth, and now that they have investors to worry about, they must. Im not a business analyst, far from it, but it seems reasonable to me that having such an enormous proportion of revenue dependent on such a narrow stream is undesireable. Google needs to find alternate revenue streams, and this move seems likely to be a precursor to monetizing publishers websites in a remarkably similar way to that of Gator.

As was pointed out in the previous discussion over and over again, if Google get away with this infringement, it will not be long before Microsoft and Yahoo follow suit. They'll have no choice but to do so. And in that scenario, Google will then be free to stop pretending that this is "all for the user" and move to monetize the Autolink madness.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Personally i feel betrayed by Google, though im not in the least surprised. It had to happen. Google have, since the IPO, understandably become "more evil". In fact, their rather myopic tagline has been biting them in the arse more and more over the last few months and they're most likely regretting they'd ever said it.

If this is allowed to happen, by you, the webmaster, and you the blogger, and you the user, i truly fear for what the internet will become. Google have the power to change the way the web works on a whim, and it appears, that like Gator, they want to play the "for the user" card - well great, go ahead and bullshit your users and supporters Google - Go ahead and follow them Microsoft and Yahoo, when this is all over, and a web publisher cannot make money on the web, and when small ecommerce shops go bankrupt you can say that it's okay, we did it for the user.

In my opinion this does not serve the user, it insults them, and robs them of choice. If Google are so intent on the user, as Rubel points out, why are they not listening to them?


" the autolink battle is over"

Says who? Says Mark Jen , him of worked for M$, fired by G$$gle for blogging, and now aparently interviewing at M$ to get his job back, fame.

it looks like google is winning, publishers are losing and users are too ignorant to care

However he goes on to say

i actually like the feature. but i recognize the danger in giving a tool that kind of control and it just gives me a bad gut feel.


the next logical step? MSN should immediately add smart tags into their toolbar - they wouldn't even have to write it, it's probably sitting around in some old, archived repository. then, when the user navigates to and is about to attempt a search, the MSN icon on the toolbar should begin to blink and animate, begging users to click on it. when they do, it imperceptibly changes google's search page so that queries are actually directed to MSN search. additionally, they could even release a "security update" to IE that prevents google from blocking the smart tags like publishers are blocking autolinks.

This guy has been doing some thinking, eh? Maybe he knows something we don't know!

aaarg - which thread should this go in?!

if you visit the Google Blog this morning you'll see why Google aren't commenting yet.....

The Maps team was excited to see all the ideas and feedback that hit blogs around the Web after Google Maps launched a couple weeks ago, and we've been listening: Maps now supports Safari and Opera. Keep the feedback coming...

so how excited are they going to be by all the feedback from AutoLink? It's two weeks in a day or so I think - expect a knicker-wettingly excited comment from G very shortly.....

TOS, GoogleGuy and Autolink

This has been bothering me.

Back when GoogleGuy made his request for the Threadwatch link analysis tool not to scrape Google because it would violate Google's TOS against automated queries, how is that different from our request that Google not put automated or semi-automated links on our sites? Presuming we altered our site TOS to prohibit this? I don't see a whole lot of difference.

Many commentators say that because the user is initiating the Autolinks it is somehow okay. But in the case of the TW link analysis tool isn't that being initiated by the user, from the users computer?

I do not see a practical difference between Google very politely asking use to respect their TOS and we as webmasters, very politely asking Google to respect our TOS. Can somebody explain the difference?

Googles biggest problem?

Arrogance. People have been saying they are bullet proof and "not evil" so long they have begun to really believe it. To combat this sort of thinking Microsoft purposefully ensure there is a streak of paranoia about the competition coming in and eating their lunch in some of their execs. Perhaps Google needs to eat some humble pie in order to become stronger and better for it.

Users are sheep....

and the largest segment of the internet world is the "common user". These are the people the latest round of AOL idiot ads are aimed at, and their name is legion. These are the people who run out to wallyworld and buy a new compaq or hp because their less than a year old machine is so clogged with trash of all sorts that it won't run, and in 6 months or a year they'll buy another new one ditto.

The common user installs whatever is offered. All they see is a dialog box with a "yes" button, they click it, it's gone. All google has to do is modify the functionality a leetle teensy bit, so that every time the user surfs to a new page with the toolbar "inactive", said user gets a dialog box asking if s/he wants to activate the autolink feature. Maybe the first dozen times the user will click no - but I wouldn't bet on it - and after the first dozen times, the next time the damn box comes up, the user is going to click yes just to get it out of hisser face.

Bad news. Really bad news.

[Edit for plurality and tense idiocy - *sigh*]

The biggest problem that G ha

The biggest problem that G has is $. A recent IPO and eveyone in the company set to make a great deal of $. So it’s the bind leading G and $ leading the blind. Florida was phase 1 AL is phase 2. this is definitely the end of the the techie love affair with G.

the wrath of the world

I see this turning into a tremendous fight, legal and otherwise. I see a never ending stream of negative press coming from this, and a grass roots movement to counter smarttags2. I don't think Google has any idea what lays ahead if they do not drop AutoLink or at least make it opt-in.

Look at the force growing behind the anti-autolink movement:
webmasters in general
small ebusiness owners
news outlets
hungry lawyers

Each one of those groups are formidable independently, in a combination like this even Google will have to cave in eventually. If they are wise, they will soon before the stockholders start getting nervous.

Mayer says Google is unlikely to remove AutoLink but the ultimate decision will be based on public feedback over the next few months.

As for feedback that's the BBC, Time, Danny Sullivan, pretty much any name-brand blogger you can think of... who else?

The point was that Kottke is

The point was that Kottke is putting negative press re G front-and-center. Maybe he should have used this article by TIME (cite WmW for the link).,9171,1032364,00.html

The only thing that can kill Google....

John Battelle, author of a forthcoming book on the company, observes, “I’m not saying that Microsoft—or AOL, or Yahoo—can’t prosper, or even ‘win’ in the long term. But crush Google à la Netscape? No friggin’ way. The only thing that can kill Google is Google itself.”

Great article my arse..

Yeah, 's why i didn't post it here. Thought it was a bit naff actually...

Here's some very interesting counter points to the arguments expressed here at TW from a guy i've not heard of before but he seems sensible enough and his posts (check his site) are very well reasoned.

If a content-modifying function:
  1. has a definition that is completely understood by the user
  2. is only invocable at the user's request and in isolation (i.e. not automatically)
  3. has an effect limited to the user who invoked it

... then it's entirely within the spirit of the Web, no matter what modification it performs. No exceptions.

Google AutoLink fits completely within that definition. Hence, it's fine and not worth arguing about. There are other existing functions out there that step over the line. (Note that stepping over the line does not automatically imply evil. Just that staying behind the line is a guarantee of non-evil.) But, for the rest of this discussion, we're dealing entirely with tools that work like Google AutoLink, since that's what everyone seems to have a problem with.

and a bit further down:

Can I scrape Google and replace their ads with mine?

Sho'nuff, as long as it stays on your machine (point 3). If you want to write a plugin to do it and pass it around your friends, that's fine too, as long as it fits with the rules above. It's only if you publish these scraped pages to the web that Google might have a problem with it. But then, they don't seem to have shut down Scroogle yet. (For many other fascinating Google-scrapers, see Cory's excellent collection.)

Interesting that Kottke poste

Interesting that Kottke posted this as a "great article about Google" --I thought it was kind of melodramatic.

“Don’t be evil” the corporate motto. (Asked later what the slogan meant, Schmidt would say, “Evil is what Sergey says is evil.”)

Defending Against Google Autolink

A great recap of a long thread about what you can do against Google's Autolink was posted by Gurtie of SearchGuild.

Nice Guy

I've met Robert. He is a nice guy, and he does tell MS exactly what he thinks.

Perhaps Google need someone like him.

Funny you should say that RC

I disagree with him more often than not, but i can't help but like him either. He's kinda grown on me over the last month...

Good man, that Scoble fellow.

Good man, that Scoble fellow. I like him more and more....

It +is+ an evil idea. It was an evil idea BEFORE I became a Microsoft employee. It is an evil idea now. I used that word very specifically back in 2001 before I was a Microsoft employee.

Its their business

they must do what they think is best. Having said that I can't stop thinking of this quote whenever I read G's justifications for this move.

The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself. ~Jane Addams

So, what Attorneys are representing us in the Class Action Suit?

OhmiGOD that's a sucky thought. But I feel we're headed in that direction. And we might have to, which is even worse. How else do we stop this??? It's the only thing that Big Business pays attention to-- bad publicity resulting from lawsuits. And this has the potential to be a biggie . . .


I've noticed that one or two avid G$ supporters and employees have been very carefully getting their opinions out into the blogosphere. See what you make of Google employee Chris Diabona's comments on Scobles blog:

there is a lot of talk going on as if what Google (my employer) is doing is the same as what Microsoft did. We allow the user to never install the toolbar and never use the feature. Remember that -every single time- you want the features of autolink you have to click the button. If bloglines put out a toolbar, and there was a button that would indicate the feeds and subscribe me to them....oh wait, they already do with thier book marklet. This is only a slippery slope if you want to exaggerate what the toolbar does to justify poor behavior. Again, I assume people are responsible if they choose to install the toolbar and that by clicking on the autolink button to get the links, that they want them. How random of me is that! User choice is the difference.

Additionally, I love this talk about us inspiring a new generation of malware...what kind of dream world have people been living in? People have been creating crappy malware laden, involuntary ad and content rewriting toolbars for years. Years.

In the meantime, as I've said before, if you don't like what the toolbar not use it. You have a choice.

It's The Killer-App We Should Fear

Other peoples content is G's prized possession. To keep their current killer app (the search engine), one of the things they have to do (for its users and investors) is to replace the poisoned honeypot that provides income; scraped sites (amongst others)... or to put it another way; they have to find a way to get at content that is otherwise not volunteered by webmasters.

We all know that there are, as yet, unchallenged legal vulnerabilities that pose threat to the G skin. In its current state, it's only a matter of time before someone with an equal duty-of-care to its own investors, will have sufficient financial interest to make the challenge... a'la the recent French case for instance.

Recent market moves by G strongly suggest an attempt to build a desktop presence on the PC. To achieve that en-masse they need another irresistable "killer-app". The danger is, when it arrives, AutoLink will be old (and tired) news and will just be perceived as a small add-on utility of the core killer functionality.

By then, it'll be too late.

(Interesting they say that future beta's need not run for so long any more; The hitherto leisurely cantor has now become a gallop - Desperate? or scared?)

It is not just the tool bar t

It is not just the tool bar they are pulling this crap with. Think about the ~ operator. This is a sneaky one. Including brands is a very bad idea or a potentially profitable one for google. It seems to me that it is very similar to the grocery store game pay to have eye level stocking.

I am not suggesting this is in play at this time. Just that it has a potential to be turned into a money maker in the future.