Thursday, February 24, 2005
Instapundit links to an article over at that argues Google's new Autolink feature is bad for web publishers.

If you don't know what the Autolink feature is, the article does a pretty good job of explaining it. But basically it is a feature of the google toolbar that users can turn on or off as they wish. If it is turned on then it inserts links into webpages as if they were placed there by the website author themselves. For example, if you had an address typed in your webpage, it would create a link to a map of that location.

I completely disagree with this article, primarily because it focuses on how the autolink feature might affect webpublishers. The primary argument seems to be that users will be "confused" about whether the link is from google or the author of the website. I say who cares? The user has to enable this feature. The user could take the address and plug it into google themselves, this just provides a shortcut. The article argues that google should provide an "opt out" or "opt in" policy for websites. But again, why should a website author be able to prevent a person viewing the website from utilizing a feature that simply provides a short cut? It is impossible for a website to prevent me from typing in information from that site into a google search, so all the "opt out" would do is prevent viewers from using this shortcut feature if the choose to use it.

The article finally goes to a slippery-slope style argument, stating:

Where is the line?
This is the question that keeps coming up. Even if you don't find the current implementation invasive, even if it doesn't compromise the integrity of your writing, even if does flow money into Google and their partners, without sharing, where is this going? What's next? Could they link it to Gmail, and where ever the name of a Gmail user appears in a page, change it to a mailto link so you can send them mail? If you're in the widget business, might they change the links to your widgets to links to your competitors' widgets? (Aren't they already doing that to Barnes and Noble?) Would they add discussion software so that any Internet user can mark up your page with their comments, no matter how inane or immature?
As far as linking a gmail user name to a mailto link, I see nothing wrong with that - again it is just a shortcut for the user. The line is clearly drawn, however, at the next point - changing links to your products to links to your competitors. That would clearly be tortious, and also in theory copyright infringement. From a user's perspective it would also probably be fraudulent (i.e., the user would be deceived into linking to a competitor when it thought it was linking to that website's products). And the next example is also clearly across the line - permanently defacing your website to allow others to edit content? Obviously that is nothing like what the Autolink feature does. The Autolink feature doesn't alter any content on the webpage itself, it merely interacts in between the browser and the display for the user who chose to use the feature. It wouldn't affect people who don't want to use the Autolink feature.

So in short, I really don't think this article's fears are justified.
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I am an attorney in Chicago. Politically speaking, I am an indepedent that tends to lean conservative on fiscal issues and progressive on social issues. I try to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. Please email or post any comments, and especially criticisms. If something I say is wrong, or you disagree - let me know about it!

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