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How Much Do You Trust Google? - Part 2

Google is at it again, making its way toward becoming the Microsoft of the web. Through the Google Toolbar, Google has taken away the liberty of controlling your own web pages. Internet professionals around the global are now harping at Google for its unethical acts through its toolbar. Some of us may remember Smart Tags by Microsoft, but this time it's even worse.

How Much Do You Trust Google? - Part 1 was originally started by Adam Prickett, and discussed legal issues and secrets of Google. Here in Part 2 we'll continue our Google revealing by unmasking their controversial AutoLink feature.

Google's Toolbar comes packaged with a feature known as AutoLink. This eyebrow raising feature allows Google to funnel traffic to destinations of its choice. Google now has control of the web page's content, does this sound ethical?

When Toolbar users click the AutoLink button, street addresses suddenly transform into links to Google's map service. Book publishers' ISBN numbers become links to Amazon.com. Vehicle ID licenses turn into links to Carfax.com, while package tracking numbers connect automatically to shippers' Web sites. All of these content changes lure potential customers away from competitors of Amazon.com, Carfax.com, etc.

Google denied that the AutoLink feature is an attempt to control which destinations users visit. They also argue that this is a user-elected feature and that the user has the choice of using the AutoLink feature. Google's defense doesn't take into account that everyone may not realize, or understand, exactly what AutoLink is doing.

In 2001, Microsoft added a feature to a beta version of Internet Explorer 6 known as SmartTags. Google's AutoLink is similar to Microsoft's SmartTags, although Microsoft withdrew using it in Internet Explorer. Microsoft created SmartTags to automatically link content to a network, and retrieve data. You still see remnants of this feature in MS Office, although it is toned down from the initial release planned for Internet Explorer 6.

Immediately after Microsoft released IE 6 Beta with SmartTags users were up in arms because Microsoft proposed to link text on pages by default to MSN sites. Due to the large controversy Microsoft removed the feature for Internet Explorer. Google revived the SmartTag idea into their own toolbar.

As a web developer, how would you feel if all of a sudden AutoLink inserted links all over your page? Another scenario might be, how would you feel if Google overwrote your own links? If you had a street address that linked to MapQuest.com, wouldn't it be unethical for Google to override that to their own map service? Taking away the liberty of a web developer to have complete control over their web page is what makes Google's AutoLink a controversial feature.

On the flip side the AutoLink feature benefits the consumers, or surfers, by providing them with instant extended information from the page that they're viewing. But does benefiting the consumers weight more over unethically controlling web content? You can also look at it as if the user has the right to rip and tear the web page apart once it hits their computer.

It comes down to who owns the content, the publisher, or Google? As this issue continues to rise, we will see if Google disbands AutoLink duplicating how Microsoft foiled SmartTags.