Is Google’s new AutoLink a force for evil?

Paul Boutin writes in Slate:

Has Google turned evil? Web pundit Dave Winer calls the search behemoth’s new AutoLink feature “the first step down a treacherous slope that could spell the end of the Web.” ZDNet’s Steve Gillmor says it’s “a pure land grab.” Slashdot chimes in with the ultimate insult: “Is Google AutoLink Patent-Pending By Microsoft?”

What’s all the hubbub about? A couple of little blue links. AutoLink is part of the new beta version of the Google toolbar. It’s possible to disable AutoLink with a single mouse click, but if you do keep it turned on the toolbar will crawl each page you surf for mailing addresses, book ISBN numbers, auto VIN numbers, and package tracking numbers. If a restaurant publishes its address, Google links that to a map. If an author’s Web site lists her books by ISBN number, each one becomes a link to Amazon’s page for the book. Why only this oddball collection of items? Because they can be reliably identified and have only one correct match.

More here.