The Power of Google AutoLink

Following up on the Google AutoLink debate, I came across this post by Internet protocol expert Scott Granneman. Scott’s main complaint with AutoLink is that user’s have little or no control over the ways in which AutoLink directs web traffic & commerce:

AutoLink only changes links in ways that Google approves and provides; Google in effect, then, becomes the gatekeeper for e-commerce and communication. For example, AutoLink automatically changes all ISBNs to point to Amazon.com, which sounds great, but what if you don’t use Amazon? What if you like Barnes & Noble? Or BookPool? Or even better, you wish to support your local independent bookstore’s web site? AutoLink provides no way to change this, which means that Google’s decisions about links are immutable, and the company now has strong influence over the purchasing decisions of millions of its users.

His summary captures the essence of Google’s growing hegemony over how users interface with information:

[This], to me, ultimately, is the difference: user control, rather than corporate-mandated impositions on my abiltiy to make a decision for myself. If Google changed AutoLink to allow users to input their own choices for books, addresses, and license plates, I’d be all for it. If AutoLink installed without any pre-made choices at all, and instead required the user to enter in her own URLs for searches, I’d praise it as another tool giving control back to users. But as it stands today, AutoLink is a case of Google leveraging its brand as a trusted source of information to exert too much power over the linking – and e-commerce – decisions of Google Toolbar users. I can’t support it.

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