Google Becomes An Adware Company
Yes, we realize this is a provocative headline. However, if it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, then it’s a duck, goddammit. Without calling Google an adware company, the tech news outlets have picked up the controversy about Google’s 3rd release of its browser toolbar for Internet Explorer which features autolinks that insert new hyperlinks in Web pages. As CNET describes it, “When web surfers install the toolbar in their Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser and click the AutoLink button, web pages with street addresses suddenly sprout links to Google’s map service by default. Book publishers’ ISBN numbers trigger links to Amazon.com, potentially luring shoppers away from competing book sellers. Vehicle ID licences spawn links to Carfax.com, while package tracking numbers connect automatically to shippers’ websites.”
Many people might not have a problem with this practice but it burns the ass of the privacy and the publishers’ rights crowds that go after adware companies with a religious fervor. There is not a huge difference between Google’s Toolbar and Claria and WhenU’s adware. The functional similarities are that all these companies are making money from desktop applications that monitor what users are interested in and then send traffic to advertisers. The ethical concern is that users may not understand that the sites they are being drawn to are paying for the private information that led users to the site in the first place. Or seen through a more sinister lens, Google, Claria, and WhenU are duping users into downloading their adware under the pretext of giving them something of pure value, when in fact they are hawking users’ private information to the highest bidder.
Google started out wearing a white suit, and the company got a lot of mileage from the “Above-all, do no evil” mantra. Google is ostensibly clean and moving into an area where the mud is flying. Adware companies, on the other hand, are trying to move from the mud-stained precincts of their current market to Google’s clean contextual search space as quickly as they can. Witness Claria’s recent foray into partnership with publisher via its new BehaviorLink service.
For the adware community, which includes many of the largest private Internet companies, this is a mixed blessing. They can point to Google’s entrance into the market as a legitimization of their model. But these same companies must also now count Google as a competitor, a foe that not only enjoys white-suit status but can probably expect to cut deals with customers that have avoided Claria and WhenU because of their questionable practices.
View – Google Toolbar for IE
Read – Google Under Fire Over Autolinking (ZDNet)
Read – Google’s Toolbar Sparks Concern (BBC)
Read – Claria Does About-face on Internet Pop-up Ads (International Herald Tribune)