logo
Header graphic 7 of 8

Categories

Archives

Other stuff

Other sites

I wish this site were powered by Django

February 26th, 2005

Every bad idea

Filed under: Attitude,Cutting the crap — jm @ 17:42

…comes up at least twice. When Microsoft decided to introduce its “smart”-tag technology into beta versions of Internet Explorer 6.0, users all over the world were outraged. Suddenly the application that just was a window to the web started changing the content it received. “Why not give the user some extra features?”, someone inside Microsoft thought, “like, linking keywords in webpages to Microsoft products?”

After a public outcry on how Microsoft was using its browser monopoly to control which content reached its viewers, they backpedaled and eventually canned the idea. Smart-tags still exist in Microsoft Office, but not in Internet Explorer.

Now, years later, Google introduced the same feature to its Google toolbar. In its new incarnation, it automatically creates new links on a website in your browser. Other than Microsoft however, the links look exactly like all the other links on the webpage. Currently, the “blogosphere” is running hot, discussing if this is a good thing or not.

Today, after reading Dave’s newest post on the issue, I decided to comment. I’d say that the most obvious problem hasn’t been discussed yet.

Here’s the point that needs to be made: suppose Google uses search results for popular phrases to link to. So suddenly

  • every page that contains “John Kerry” and “Vietnam” has a link to the Swift Boat Veterans for truth
  • Howard Dean’s weblog links to the “Dean Scream” on Google Movies
  • gopusa.com’s appraisal of Bush’s Social Security plan gets linked to the words “miserable failure”
How do they plan to control this? Imagine, for a moment, that Google itself, or one of the bigger investors chooses to endorse a particular political candidate!

Whatever the perceived “use” of such a feature may be, this is a direct affront to the principles of freedom of expression.

More examples? A New York Times article on Japanese history in the US gets linked to Michelle Malkin’s book “In defense of internment” on Amazon… I have plenty.

There shouldn’t even be a discussion about this!

Google cannot be allowed to change the content of my website and if there’s no way around it, how do I distance myself from links that don’t reflect my views? Imagine a gay-community page linked to Pat Robertson… and the author wouldn’t even know that his users see this.

Now we haven’t even touched on the possibility that German users of the Google Toolbar might get totally different links than US users, so you couldn’t even find out what your users get to see. Not to mention the fact that, in Germany, you can be dragged to court for the content of pages that you link to from your page, if they contain content that’s illegal in Germany (Nazi-material, for example, or software that can be used to circumvent copy-protection mechanisms on Audio-CDs). You can, get this, even be held responsible for links contained in pages that you’ve linked to.

Now, let’s hope someone at Google realizes that this is a bad idea. Just like Microsoft did years ago.

3 Responses

  1. Roger Benningfield

    “Here’s the point that needs to be made: suppose Google uses search results for popular phrases to link to.”

    Then I will decide if that is a useful behavior. If it isn’t, I’ll quit clicking the AutoLink button. Whatever the case, the button is mine to click.

    “how do I distance myself from links that don’t reflect my views?”

    You don’t need to distance yourself from links that I add to the page. I added them, after all, by pressing the button. You had nothing to do with it.

    “Not to mention the fact that, in Germany, you can be dragged to court for the content of pages that you link to from your page…”

    Unless the courts in Germany hold that an author is accountable for the notes I scribble in the margins of his book, then this has nothing to do with the AutoLink situation.

  2. Brian Carnell

    Ohmigod, what if I write notes in the margin of a book, or skip commercials on a TIVO, or god forbid create a CD with say an Eminem track next to a Christina Aguilera track — from now on I’ll remember to write and get permission from the content creator before I do such foul things.

  3. jm

    Roger, by adding a link to a page that potentially conflicts with my views, Google robs me of the possibility to comment on it, regardless if you had to “make the link visible”, by clicking a button. Even if you know that it wasn’t my decision to link to that page, Google would control what you see next.

    On the question if you can be held accountable for content accessed by your site… if the Google toolbar repeatedly creates a link on my blog to my companies biggest competitor, don’t you think that my employer might want me to take the page offline? Granted, being dragged to court over this, is very unlikely. Your analogy fits quite well.

    It’s still bad news for the employees of Barnes & Noble…