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Google's Auto-Link-Feature rises legal questions


Google has included a feature on its newest toolbar, (Toolbar 3 Beta) that adds links to websites viewed when using the toolbar (the so called Auto-Link Feature). For now, Auto-Link works in four categories: street addresses (whisking you to Google Maps by default, but you can switch to MapQuest or Yahoo Maps); ISBN numbers (linking to; package tracking numbers (pointing to DHL, FedEx, United Parcel Service and the U.S. Postal Service); and vehicle identification numbers (hyperlinks to Why only this collection of items? Because they can be reliably identified and have only one correct match. Google won't try to link "Stephan Ott" to any website as there are more people with the name out there and the author of Links & Law might not be the person most webusers are looking for (although they should :-)


The Search Engine Journal has a very good example of the consequences this might have: If a web-user was to try to purchase a book from Barnes and Nobel, the second largest online bookseller, while using the new toolbar, a link to rival would be added to the view's version of the Barnes and Noble site as soon as the book's ISBN appeared. 


AutoLink rises some legal questions: Does Google have the right to add links to pages authored by others thus modifying the content. In my point of view too much fuss about nothing: Users can decide whether they want to use the new feature and Google's technology will not override existing links. Users can disable AutoLink with a single mouse click. (For a closer look at the legal issues see Goldman, Eric: Google's AutoLink tool, Eric Goldman Blog).


AutoLink does not involve financial or advertising deals so far and is designed simply as a convenience




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