posted Jun 07, 2001

New Windows XP Feature Can Re-Edit Others' Sites Website Annotation6/7/2001; 9:35:46 AM 'I've already encountered one proposed feature, in a "beta," or test, version, that shows Microsoft may well flunk both these tests. The feature, which hasn't yet been made public, allows Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser -- included in Windows XP -- to turn any word on any Web site into a link to Microsoft's own Web sites and services, or to any other sites Microsoft favors.''In effect, Microsoft will be able, through the browser, to re-edit anybody's site, without the owner's knowledge or permission, in a way that tempts users to leave and go to a Microsoft-chosen site -- whether or not that site offers better information.'No bad idea ever dies in the computer industry, it just gets picked up by Microsoft. Perhaps now that it's Microsoft modifying other's sites, we'll get some better debate on the issue. Normally I dislike the "Microsoft is automatically wrong!" people, but perhaps for once this will actually improve the debate: If this is released, the (IMHO extremely shortshighted anyway) argument that very few people do this will disappear. This does finally provide a functional and real demonstration of the real harm that Website Annotation can do, including real financial harm: Non-Microsoft "approved" vendors may have links to Microsoft-approved vendors, but Microsoft approved vendors will not have that disadvantage. This can cost customers and $$$.To Wes and the other supporters of annotation, this is the real and again present danger. There is no real difference between this and CritLink or Third Voice or Flyswat. Once changing the contents of other sites in this systematic fashion is OK, whether its "perceived" contents or "real" contents doesn't much matter right now, then you've lost all reasonable guarentees that your message is getting through to your site-readers.Even this simple change can have very real consequences to a site's message. Consider how the site might look through this feature... it's a good guess Amazon will be one of the featured services (they need the help), so now is plastered with links to Amazon whereever they mention Amazon (frequently), or products Amazon sells (look in the sidebar). Joy! Yes, that's maintaining the integrity of the site.Moreover, by putting this power in the hands of anybody who has the technical ability to pull this off, we are putting immense amounts of power in the hands of Microsoft. Once you open the page-modification door, all manner of things become possible. For instance, this is equivalent to giving Microsoft the power to censor, a power I don't want anyone to have. If they don't like something, they can change it, even if only by the subtle means of creating links that lead to Microsoft-approved propoganda pages.There's more to smart-tag technology then this, most of it inoffensive and perhaps even "innovative" (for Microsoft definitions of the term "innovative"), and this particular debatable part of it may be removed due to public outcry. But it's still important to have the debate.Update: Image of smart tags at work, DaveNet on SmartTags.


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