Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Yahoo and Google take different evil baby steps

Filed under: — adam @ 1:16 pm

So I noticed that sometime in the past few days, Yahoo has started tracking outbound links. When you do a search on Yahoo, say… for “stuff”, you get this page, on which all of the links for results are filtered through one of yahoo’s servers, so they can see what you actually clicked on. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t always the case, but I could have missed it.

The links look like this:*-http%3A//

Meanwhile, Google has resurrected Microsoft’s much-reviled Smart Tags, in the form of Autolink on the Google Toolbar. Google has decided in their infinite wisdom that, for example, anything that looks like an address should link to Google Maps. I fail to see how this was monopolistic behavior on the part of Microsoft but it’s totally okay for Google. There’s actually a word for this kind of unsupervised, non-user-controlled substitution… it’s “hijacking”.

Evil? Maybe. Potential for evil? Certainly. I’d call them “evil baby steps”. But both of these things certainly bear some discussion.

4 Responses to “Yahoo and Google take different evil baby steps”

  1. Emmanuel Pirsch Says:

    I don’t really see any of this as evil baby steps… Using a redirect for search results give the search engine a way to make subsequent search more relevent. If I search for XYZ and two site are found : ABC and DEF. If a majority of people click on the DEF link after searching for XYZ, then the DEF site is probably more relevent than ABC… I know that this has a potential for abuse but then you can disable cookies so the search engine will not be able to track you. BTW, you are already giving up privacy by using a search engine. They can already track your search query… Tracking in addition the exact link your interested will only give them some refinement.

    As for the creating links to google maps for something that looks like an address… I think it’s a good idea… It helps bring more information to the web user.

    It would be a good idea for a site operator to be able to say that it don’t want anything like this to happen… Like when they provide robot.txt files so their site is not indexed. Let’s call this file semantics.txt. This file could describes, like robot.txt, rules for allowing or disallowing semantics interpretation for specified pages. This way, the googlebar could read the file and see if it is allowed to add links for something that looks like an address.

  2. adam Says:

    Maybe. In the case of Yahoo, I’d like to see a little bit of public discussion about whether they’re keeping this data, for how long, whether it’s being correlated to other data they’re collecting, what’s it’s being used for. Not accepting cookies doesn’t mean you can’t be tracked. Using an anonymizer helps, but that’s still a fair pain to use. And I’m sometimes compelled by third parties to use Yahoo services (like groups) that require logging in. From a social and business standpoint, it’s bad form for me to say “Sorry, I can’t use Yahoo groups” – should it be all or nothing? I’m not saying that Yahoo shouldn’t be tracking outbound links – but how about a little transparency here?

    For Google – I don’t know, it’s a sticky question. I think that the end user should be able to format content as they like. But if Google’s going to be blithely inserting their own content into random web pages, I think that’s a problem. What happens if the address is already a link to Mapquest or Yahoo Maps? What happens if it’s a link to Amazon or some other third party that results in an affiliate payment, and the Google substitution mangles it? I think we should be careful, as end users, with granting third parties the ability to make unmonitored modifications to web content.

    Maybe it’s better for the end user to have all sorts of stuff automatically linked to Google, but maybe it’s just better for Google. I can see both sides.

  3. Jeremy Zawodny Says:

    Google and Yahoo both do this as of the last time I looked.

  4. adam Says:

    Assuming you’re referring to rewriting outbound links, Google does not do this. A link on Google’s results page is a direct link to the site, not a link through a redirector page.

    Unless they’re capturing the results with a javascript hack, which I guess is possible, Google does not seem to be tracking outbound link clicks.

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