Google Toolbar Keeps Controversial Linking Feature

Updated: Google replaces its default IE-based toolbar with a new version that retains AutoLink, a feature that has riled Web publishers.

Google has kept a controversial Web-linking feature in the full version of its browser-based toolbar released on Thursday.

When Google first released Google Toolbar 3 three months ago, it faced a storm of criticism from Webmasters and publishers who were upset about a feature called AutoLink.

AutoLink can turn a Web pages references to addresses and package tracking information, books and vehicles into hyperlinks to other sites.

AutoLink remains a key part of the full toolbar release, though Google has modified the feature to give users more options for switching the default sites for the links.

Google also has shifted the color of inserted links to distinguish them from other links, a company spokeswoman said.

The latest version of the toolbar upgrade is currently available as a download for Internet Explorer browser.

Google plans to push it out to current toolbar users through automatic update over the next few weeks, said spokeswoman Eileen Rodriguez.

Googles changes may not be enough to quell critics of AutoLink.

Steve Rubel, a vice president at CooperKatz & Co. Inc., was one of the first Webloggers to criticize AutoLink.

He said that Google has failed to address the biggest problem with AutoLink—its lack of an official way for Webmasters to opt out of having their content altered.

"It sounds like they ran to first base but are far from running home," said Rubel, who writes the Micro Persuasion blog. "[AutoLink]s real now, and they didnt listen…Its still unfriendly to Web publishers."

Asked why Google decided not to offer an opt-out option for publishers, given AutoLinks controversy, Rodriguez referred instead to user reaction to the feature.

"Were continually focused on improving and enhancing our users experience on the Web, and we have received a positive response from users regarding the AutoLink features," she said in an e-mail interview.

The debate over AutoLink largely revolved around the issue of who should control the appearance of Web pages and the links on them.

AutoLink opponents have argued that Google has gone too far by inserting links, some of which could send users to sites that compete with their own or interfere with their linking arrangements with other sites.

/zimages/3/28571.gifDid Google overstep its bounds? Click here to read an opinion on AutoLink.

In previous interviews, Google executives have stressed that they are only giving users more choice. AutoLink does not add links unless a user clicks on a toolbar button to initiate the feature.

Next Page: AutoLinks options expand.