Google has a beta version of their wonderful toolbar available. I have it installed at home; still quite handy and the pop-up blocker is a dream come true.
The newest feature is causing quite the stir, though. It’s a button called, “Auto-Link” which will create links in the HTML you are viewing based on the context. Therefore, if there were a street address, it would link to a Google map of that address. An ISBN number could link to the Amazon page for that book so you can buy it.
The issue comes up in the fact that the reader won’t be able to tell which links the author created and which came from the toolbar. Beyond that, it’s not yet clear if the toolbar will change links already present on the page. What is stopping Google from redirecting a link to a page that paid money for such action? The possibilities are quite endless and some of them not entirely comfortable (or useful to the end-user, for that matter). The free speech argument is already showing up.
A petition began today to get Google to allow a meta-tag that would disable this function on their toolbar.
I happen to agree, this sort of feels like the Big Brother of the web. I emailed Google myself to ask if an opt-out feature was in the works. I wish I had kept their response, but it was clearly from a standpoint of not wanting to listen to a potential customer. It didn’t even have the now standard line about caring about the comments of customers.
If that is truly the attitude at Google, I think this may be the start of the end for them. They aren’t powerful enough to tell their users how to use the internet yet and their competitors will smell the blood in the water soon.