back to article Google in mass 404 land grab

So, Google doesn't like other people hijacking their web pages, but it's more than happy to hijack someone else's. On December 8, the ever sneaky Canadian cable and telcom giant Rogers Communications was caught inserting Rogers-centric messages onto third party web sites. Since Rogers's high-speed internet service is co- …

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  1. A Gould
    Thumb Down

    This is completely different.

    You fail to see that there is a basic difference between the two kinds of behaviour. In on case, you have a cable provider moderating html output (something the end user can do nothing about) and in the other, you have a piece of USER INSTALLED software altering html output. If you don't like Google Toolbar, uninstall it. You don't have the same luxury with your ISP.

  2. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    512 bytes limit

    The 512 byte limit is interesting because Internet Explorer will also replace any server-supplied error page with its own built-in version if it's "too small". I forget what the limit is but it's similar. So in this respect Google is only following in Microsoft's footsteps.

  3. Name

    IE

    Doesn't IE when it sees a 404 less than 512B it gives you a user friendly error page. So how is that different from Google?

  4. Charlie

    Erm...

    If you don't like your ISP, you can simply move to another one?

  5. Steve P

    Besides which,

    This is also the normal behaviour of Internet Explorer - if the error page is too small, it too displays its own page.

    (Though whether or not it's 'right' for either to do this is a matter of debate - on the Microsoft side, the page displayed is intended to help. On the Google side, the page is intended to help, and make money for Google.)

  6. Graham Dawson

    @A Gould

    It may be different in detail but it's fundamentally still the same. Yes, people have a choice to remove the toolbar. They have a choice to change ISP; there's a lot of hassle involved in the latter but the choice is there most of the time. The problem isn't whether there's a choice or not, the problem is Google assuming that they have the right to alter what the user is seeing without informing them of what they're doing. Without information there is no way to presume consent. It's as simple as that.

  7. Ed
    Happy

    Different...

    I agree with A Gould - it is completely different. If the user wants software that will replace default error pages with google search pages, that's their choice. The only thing I'd do is make sure the user is aware that they're choosing to do this - something thats very hard to do as users don't read things you stick on the screen...

  8. Michael Sheils
    Thumb Down

    So now...

    Optional software providing a service is somehow wrong?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Just like adwares

    Exactly the behavior of adwares.

    For A. Gould: yes, you can change isp.

    Uninstalling the "toolbar" is far from obvious for most users. At first they do not know why it's there, then they can not make a relation between the hijacking and the toolbar.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MSIE has been doing this for years

    What's the difference between this and MSIE displaying custom error pages under the same conditions? It's been doing this for years, and not just for 404 responses.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Wrong

    This is not about the user end message that is quoted here. Of course the user can turn off their web toolbar, but this is not the issue at hand.

    The issue is that when someone is directed to my website, and there is no response from my server, google will take over my web page, present its own content, or a competitors.

    Hence they are hijacking my website and people trying to access my site without any right to do so

  12. Jeremy
    Flame

    Re: This is completely different.

    Different, yes but still damn annoying. I'll be checking the 404 output on the site I look after and will be adding sufficient comment-wrapped # symbols to push it over 512 bytes...

    FWIW, I have a custom 404 response but I'm pretty certain the html is <512 bytes. For Google to suggest that my brief 404 page is somehow unworthy and that they could do a better job for me is condescending and arrogant.

    If someone goes off-piste on my site, I want to be able to suggest what they should do next, not have Google take them elsewhere (potentially to another website).

    It seems that for every reason to love Google, there's an equal an opposite reason to hate them and hence the fundamental balance of the universe is upheld...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to agree with the above.

    I'd actually consider installing the google toolbar for this....

  14. Matt
    Thumb Down

    Your criticisms...

    are somewhat retarded and self serving. While I'm not a fan of toolbar software, using an opt-in service that was specifically designed to be non-intrusive to lampoon a company you essentially dislike by comparing it to a company that is in fact guilty of taking advantage of its users is completely ridiculous.

    The google toolbar can be disabled, uninstalled at will. It's designed to provide functionality for users that desire such functionality, without inconveniencing or aggravating web users or web masters. Tell me what's wrong with that?

    What rogers did was forcefully alter the online experience of their paying users.

  15. Keith Ealanta
    Thumb Down

    Yep, not the same thing

    I'm with A. Gould on this. The difference is fundamental.

    In part it isn't about what the purpose of the change is. If I as an ISP search and replace (for example) Huckabee's name with some amusing homonym that would (probably) get me sued for meddling in the democratic process or some such. If I do the same to promote myself that is supposed to be acceptable somehow?

    But Google offering a tool that has amongst it's capabilities, the ability to help me find the page I wanted when I get back a result that says 'nothing there', well personally I won't use it, but it's a tool. Use it if you want it. And if you install software without knowing what it does (it's not like it's likely to be a hidden feature) then you deserve what you get.

    My one thought against Google with this is that the page they offer should include the returned error page as well as the helper content, rather than just dropping it.

  16. Paul Fleetwood
    Flame

    I get a similar suggestion list from openDNS

    but the I have opted to use their service and think it's fine, as it helps fund a service I pay nothing for

    I'd be ever so upset, on the other hand, if my ISP decided to insert their branding into webpages downloaded over a connection I pay for. I think the difference is if you're paying for it, then it's an outrage to have your data played with, if it's a side-effect of a free service then you pays (or not) your money and you makes your choice

  17. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  18. Kanhef
    Boffin

    @ Graham Dawson

    It's not fundamentally the same. Most people aren't trying to get 404 pages, so Google is replacing one piece of undesired data with another piece of undesired data. Rogers alters content the user wants to see, creating undesired data where none existed before.

    Not that that makes them any better morally.

  19. Joey Y
    Thumb Down

    Changing ISPs - easier said than done

    On top of the above mentioned reasons, I wish to point out that I can change all sorts of things on my computer, including OS, browser and toolbar-plugin things, but in many places, I am limited to one broadband ISP. In many others, I can only choose between two.

    The idea here is that ISPs should not be allowed to modify content of traffic just because it passes through their network. (...or, in Comcast's case, should not be allowed to choke out/eliminate traffic based on type/protocol.)

    (I know, the cases of evil stuff such as virus activity and malicious TCP traffic, we want the ISPs to step in and help to limit the damage... But there is still a VERY marked difference between these ideas.)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Analysis indicates imperceptible s**t variability with a high variance in underlying bucketry.

    Just flicking through the prior article, Rogers' provide a "I dont want to receive these messages" option which seems pretty comparable to Google's philosophy. I would go a step further and say that an ISP arbitrarily attaching content to the beginning of web content is a little less intrusive than a company inspecting your web content, analysing it, and sending some part of that content on to it's swarm of search-o-mat machines with their bottomless bins of archived logs and their penchant for using one users input to value-add another users experience...

    Your search for "Nesmith offlington bengay cooking cough freetrade" returned 0 results.

    Did you mean "ben smith of islington being gay is looking for a wee bit of rough trade" ?*

    I opt in and out of all sorts of services with my ISP that benefit me or benefit them or benefit us both, and much of that might be considered spam or intrusive in the eyes of the right beholder. I have an advantage with my ISP as we have a contractually defined relationship focussed primarily on the delivery of network services and if I am not satisfied I can kick up a stink or move on. The wunderkind at Google, on the other hand, seem to be doing backflips trying to find new ways to turn my searches for supportive underwear and soft pornography into the next Web 2.0 meme.

    * yes, I know it doesnt work this way.. yet..

    And NO, I do not know a Ben Smith - of Islington or anywhere else - and if such a person exists I am in no position to make statements on their sexual preference or subsequent peccadillos and I am certainly neither inclined nor empowered to cast judgments on another person's personal life! Live free, and be the best you that you can be, Ben Smiths of the world!

  21. Alan Doherty
    Stop

    RE:Wrong

    re: Wrong

    By Anonymous Coward

    no essentially what they are doing is hi-jacking the browsers default 404 page only

    in your scenario {a timeout} no 404 recieved so timout message given to user

    if your server has any custom error page it is shown

    only the default

    <html><head><title>404 Errror</title></head><body><h1>404 Errror</h1><p>

    the page was not found</p>

    <address><a href="http://servername/">servername</a> apache vxx.x</address></body></html>

    page tends to be small enough

  22. Jan

    Clearly inform and provide option to disable

    I haven't seen the "land grabbing" message yet, but I think Google should clearly inform the user that they are being redirected, and provide them with a link in the redirected message to disable this "feature", and include the original 404 message.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    This is a hijack...

    ...take this page to Cuba!

  24. Dave

    Toolbars?

    Toolbars are evil things, who knows what they might also be hiding. I wouldn't install one on my machines and I discourage friends and family from such stupidity as well. But then I can cope with a command prompt.

  25. P. Lee Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    of toolbars and redirection

    There probably isn't a connection in users' minds between a toolbar which gives an easy way to access google services when explicitly requested and a search service.

    While I agree this isn't like your ISP messing with data at the network level, it still isn't right. If I send out an email with a slightly incorrect url in it (perhaps reformatted by the email client so that the link is incomplete) I *really* don't want google stepping in and offering to send customers to my competitors, simply because I don't have a high enough page rank. I want the recipients to take a second look at the URL, see what the matter is and correctly enter the URL. I may be slightly incompetent, but that doesn't give google the right to send my customers somewhere else based on my email.

    Software should be clear about what it is doing. I've no problem with google having a toolbar to allow easy access to its services because that what people expect, given the user interface, but when it starts slanting users' activities because they aren't fully aware of what is going on, it has gone too far. When I explicitly go to a search engine, I'm thinking about what I'm doing. When people click on URLs they are probably not evaluating what is happening in the same way. That's how malware gets installed or people end up being phished.

  26. Adam T
    Stop

    lol

    This reminds me of people who get angry when prompted "Are you sure you want delete this file?"

    We usually judge software on their usefulness (let's stay impartial to presentation), so it's bizarre to read a story criticising a good feature.

    Fair enough the lack of prior disclosure is a bit of a boo, but overall I'm with Google on this one.

  27. Corrine
    Paris Hilton

    Doesn't IE already do the same thing?

    So you get a Google page instead of a Microsoft one. Big deal.

  28. Andrew

    Amazon's patent?

    Isn't this basically what Amazon's recently approved 404 patent is about?:

    'A client component runs on a user computer in conjunction with a web browser and detects errors, such as but not limited to "404: page not found" errors, in which a requested web page or other object cannot be displayed. In response to detecting the error, the client component notifies an error processing server, which uses the URL of the failed request to identify an alternate object to display.'

    That lawsuit would be interesting.

  29. Andy Towler
    Flame

    Simple

    Don't install toolbars. They're evil and bad.

  30. Simpson

    end users are idiots who love spam

    We must assume that end users are idiots.

    They will not know that the toolbar from the company that has promised to do no evil, will be manipulating the content of the requested page.

    It will be hard to explain to grandma, why she can not trust the links on "her favorite site", because the links and pages on her favorite site, may not be coming from her favorite site.

    This is going to open up a whole new avenue for spam. People could send spam that reads "check out www.theregister.co.uk/my_credit_card_offer", then buy the key words or phrase of "my credit card offer". This will allow spammers to use the reputation of popular or trusted sites, to sell their goods on those trusted sites.

    I wonder if google is going to do this with their own site too. I wonder if a person visited http://www.google.com/app, could they be shown a page full of Office live adverts? If not, then why should my site's reputation be stolen by google's advertisers?

    This should definitely be an opt in type of system. Can you think of any legit site that would want their traffic stolen in this way? I can't. This seems like a tool for the spammers and advertising engines

  31. Steve Browne
    Alert

    Toolbars

    I spend some time developing programs to try out features of whatever framework I work with. This quite often results in 404 errors, which I actually want to see. Fortunately, I don't use tool bars and usually turn them all off, seems like yet another serendipitous stroke of luck.

    (Akin to not having Flash installed, not quite true, IE has it, but needs the machine rebooting at times if Flash is used. I am sure I could investigate and find a fix, but I can't be arsed, Firefox worked for most things and IE is just there to work with VS).

    Amazon: How do the USPO issue patents, any feature is now patentable? Have they any software to implement this or is it just more patents for vapourware?

  32. Joel Stobart

    @A Gould

    I'm with you on this one:

    Google is just replacing a microsoft feature with a Google one*.

    Its application specific, and you can use the "Uninstall programs" to get rid of it

    It only works on people for windows, on IE, so install Linux, Firefox, or Safari, ...

    - Joel

    *bye-the-bye I hate that Microsoft gets to claim "30%" of search from people typing what they want into the address bar. People who use live search don't know what it is.

  33. this

    The trouble with toolbars

    ..is that I have yet to come across a PC, owned by one of my customers or a family member, with a tool bar that the owner could recall having deliberately installed. In fact some of them have row upon row of badly laid-out crud at the top of their browser, seriously diminishing available screen area. Generally they are not even used, the numerous jolly icons just sit there cluttering up the view like gargoyles on a roof, whilequietly ushering in various creepy 'features'.

    I have been known to demonstrate the joy of hitting F11 to give a nice big screen to them - to exclamations of joy. Then the next time I see them they ask 'what was that trick for making the screen go big you did - I forgot...' or a panic phone call describing how they can't put an address in as all the stuff at the top of the screen has vanished when they open their browser.

    I don't do that anymore, just mumble something about be careful what boxes you tick next time you update Acrobat reader and leave it.

  34. yeah, right.

    Difference

    If you voluntarily install a piece of trojan malware like Google Toolbar, you have to expect the people who convinced you to do something so stupid to use said trojan to their own ends. That is, after all, its intended behaviour. If I don't want said behaviour, I don't need to install their piece of invasive crap.

    However, when I pay my ISP, I expect them to leave my bitstream the hell alone, and not insert or delete things at their whim. To do so is NOT expected or intended behaviour, and if I caught my ISP doing it I'd be very tempted to emulate the BOFH and his EtherKiller and make sure their isolation was up to spec.

    As for IE, they do it in their browser already, and you CAN'T uninstall their piece of trojan malware if by some unfortunate circumstance you're stuck using their crap.

    Yes, there is a huge difference.

  35. alphaxion

    I'd much rather know

    why google toolbar is being bundled into every and any other bit of software going.

    The latest version of daemon tools now asks you if you want to install that trash and has recently knocked itself from my usual list of installed applications because it tries to make a grab at being your default search provider (why? you are an iso mounting software, not a bloody search company!!) regardless of if you select yes or no.

    also, on a side note tiscali was in the habit of hijaking typo'd domain addresses and showing you their "did you mean" page, littered with web ads. I a user argue with them demanding to be taken off the service, they claimed he wasn't on it. After about an hour he got a frustrated "oh ok, we'll take you off it then". hold on, you said he wasn't on that service not long ago... within a week of opting out, he was put back onto the service.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Heart

    @A/C This is a Hijack

    Google are American...America does not allow it's own citizens to freely travel to Cuba or to sell products there (although it will happily send people it wants to torture to Gitmo),. therefore no point Google to go there!

    It's a lovely place, one of the nicest countries I've ever visited, cutoms far more freindly than LAX !

  37. ben edwards

    If the webmaster doesn't bother to track their own 404s...

    Whose fault is it if the webmaster isn't technical enough to monitor their own logfiles, and then not have a custom 404 file just on the offchance a link doesn't work? Its a stupid shame to make a site to attract visitors and make it pretty, while forgetting to take care of the basic themes

    If google are displaying genuine 'did you means' and not sneakily disguised Sponsored Ads, then I don't see a problem.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @sacred bitstream

    Once it leaves you home network it is no longer yours. You are the bitch of every router, ips, load balancer, qos shaper, inspector, and rejecter between you and the destination you think you are going to. Your packets get rewritten, rerouted, proxied and cached. And most of it is done for your benefit.

    Likewise with google, except they are being snaky in your turf - your system, your data - and sure you can disable it (just like you can disable the Rogers' ISP thing) but they know very well that the majority of lay users couldnt considering the implications of their "service" even if they wanted to.

    You know your ISP (and others) can frig with your traffic so you TOR'ify or VPN but your search toolbar shouldnt suddenly start trapping your returned pages and pumping your data into google central's data-sump...

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Google toolbar is *not* installed by choice.

    I know, I've installed it several times -- and it's all Adobe's fault.

    You know, when you've got a trusted piece of software that auto-updates you can happily just hit "next" when the installer pops up right?

    Wrong.

    The Adobe Reader updater now has Google toolbar bundled, and the default position is that it installs it -- you have to untick the box to opt-out. The first time this happened, I didn't even look and the next time I used IE (I don't use it much) I wondered where the Toolbar had come from. Well, the next couple of times I installed an upgrade of Acrobat I remembered just too late and had to manually uninstall.

    Anyway, the Adobe Reader installer definitely doesn't tell you everything about Google Toolbar, so it's hardly an informed opt-in service.

    I doubt anyone really cares whether you know what's going on -- anyone who bundles it gets a cut of the advertising cash so they just want as many people signed up as possible.

  40. o
    Happy

    what a brilliant idea....

    why not make a 404 page on your site with a google adsense search box in it so at least you can get a bit of google revenue for not having your links in complete order.

    make it larger than 512 of course and if especially clever preload it with the relevant links

    smiley for all that potential extra revenue to be donated by messrs page, brin et al. for having a messy website.

  41. Matthew
    Stop

    I'm with alphaxion...

    Most people who get the Google toolbar have unintentionally installed it because it came bundled with, say Acrobat Reader or Java.

    So it has sneaked onto their computer because, let's face it, most people can't be bothered to go into the specific 'sub-component' checkboxes or read dull licence terms. And usually the firms who produce the software that the user *does* want are trusted names.

    So we have what is getting perilously close to the idea of malware (forcing an opt-out is sneakier than an opt-in) and once you're lumbered with it, your webpages will be occasionally substituted without your *explicit* consent.

    If this is viewed as the thin end of a wedge it becomes a very scary prospect, and if we give Google the benefit of the doubt (remembering their much-lauded slogan: 'Do no evil') this becomes merely very ill-advised.

    Google's defence is also spurious; it should not be up to the webpage author to modify the pages served, simply to accommodate a third party's idosyncrasies!

  42. Bez

    Patented?

    I've not read everything terribly carefully, IANAL (and other excuses, yada yada), but... Isn't this covered by a patent recently awarded to Amazon?

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?patentnumber=7,325,045

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The issue

    The issue is not if I track 404, but what I do with them, if my page is <512, then google assume there page is more worthy with their nice sponsored links.

  44. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Altering the bit-stream

    Legal responsibility for any alterations in the bitstream from a site surely lies with the owner of the device that makes the alteration.

    If the spooks have a wiretap on your pipe and are altering the stream as well as snooping on it, they need a warrant.

    If my ISP wants to alter that bitstream, they need to get their lawyers to sign off on a piece of paper that takes full editorial responsibility for every byte that enters my home. If they insist that their interference is part of the T&Cs, they should be challenged on "unfair contract terms". (I can't see how snooping my private conversations is a requirement of how they do business.)

    However, if I install, or allow to be installed, some software on the PC, that's my fault. I own the machine. I have physical access to it. No-one else does. If I can't manage it, that's no-one else's fault. ("Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this...")

    Of course, all this is much easier if you have the notion of common carrier protection in your legal system, because then you can mention that phrase and remind your ISP why they *need* its protection. It's even easier if your constitution bangs on about personal privacy rights.

  45. Hans-Peter Lackner
    Paris Hilton

    I don't get it too...

    I haven't installed the Google Toolbar, because it is not providing any aditional service for me, but if someone uses it, this would be additional service.

    If a webmaster doesn't bother to provide any specific information why the user gets an 404 then the page provided by the Toolbar is useful and helpful.

    You are suggesting, that this would be negative for the administrator of the website but I believe the customer will see this as additional service provided by the administrator with the help of google.

    And if you don't like it, just provide customized 404-pages...

    No big deal and in no way comparable to Rogers...

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think you should just remove this article.

    Dear CadeMetz,

    This aticle would've read much better if you'd precluded your bias.

    Google's "suggestions" are useful and may evolve into something more useful later depending on usage. Regardless of the fact that they have a business intention ultimately, as long as they are trying to SERVE THE USER in first place and then trying to derive some mileage out of it, I don't mind the ulterior motive (branding or otherwise). It's not morally repungent - it's give and take. Only problem might be if the website's 404 had something useful in it - which is never the case. If you claim that google is denying the website that 404'd a chance to do get some weblicity - IMO you are absolutely wrong!

    However, what the ISP-you-mentioned did was plain ho*ing - Selling it's sweet spot for money.

    Al.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Stuffing the webmasters who..

    ..like me use a tiny 404 page to redirect the browser to an internal search page to help them find what they were looking for.

  48. system

    @Simpson

    Good point.

    Google for some reason feel qualified to offer advice about "unsafe" websites, through both their searches and the regular updates the firefox will search for, and yet they are incompetent at web security. How many times must gmail be broken into before they stop pretending to be security experts?

    Yet another google "feature" I'll have to fix on my websites, just like their crappy precache. Maybe they could stop breaking our sites and try branching out into other crappy services for a change, like email...scripting...voice...data...errr. Ah well, at least when they run out of things to do we can get back to life without google.

  49. Jeremy
    Thumb Down

    User choice.

    The argument about it being user choice is crap.

    For starters, Google Toolbar is bundled with so many different things these days that you have to make a concerted effort *not* to have it installed. We, as computer savvy users are aware that you have to watch install apps for the sneaky "Would you also like..." bit but most aren't and will just "I agree > Next > Next > Finish" their way through the setup.

    Secondly, even if they do pay attention during setup, the majority of users don't understand what a 404 is, let alone what it's there for (more important than letting them know they/the site has made a whoopsie is providing suggestions on what to do about it). So when Google ask if they'd like to take the nasty errors away, of course they're gonna say yes.

    Third, Google don't do anything which isn't about their bottom line in the end. Making money by inserting a handy search box in response to user typos or (heaven forbid) my balls up is not exactly wrong but still pisses me off a great deal. The argument that not very many sites should/do have <512b error pages is bunk too - if it was an insignificant proportion, they wouldn't waste their effort with this scheme.

    Finally, the site I run is someone's small-scale livelihood. Like I said way up there, if someone goes off-piste, I need to help them out with getting back to the right place such that they may still make a purchase. If they're presented with a search box already populated with keywords from what they were looking for, the chances are the results of the search will simply redirect them to a bigger fish with a higher mystical PageRank and the customer will be lost.

    <Farnsworth> If anyone wants me, I'll be in the Angry Dome </Farnsworth>

  50. Steve Sutton

    http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc2616.html

    10.4 Client Error 4xx

    The 4xx class of status code is intended for cases in which the

    client seems to have erred. Except when responding to a HEAD request,

    the server SHOULD include an entity containing an explanation of the

    error situation, and whether it is a temporary or permanent

    condition. These status codes are applicable to any request method.

    User agents SHOULD display any included entity to the user.

    It only says "SHOULD", not "MUST" - although I've found this annoying, developing/debugging web applications (as I do), which send diagnostic information with 404 messages. We had to work around this with MSIE, by padding the page.

  51. A Scott
    Unhappy

    Google = new M$

    You could argue that Norton does the same thing. I made the mistake of having a page with links that used banner sized images (468x60 pixels in size). Norton users found that these links were completely removed without any warning or indication.

    As an aside, some sites deliberately use 404 error pages as an alternative to Mod Rewrite (i.e. to parse the url and deliver url-specific content)

    The comparisons between what the ISP did and Google are slight- but the fact that they both insert their own content to redirect you elsewhere is absolutely shocking (I can forgive Norton - at least they didnt replace the links with links to their own site!)

  52. Chris Bradshaw

    better solution

    If I wanted to search on Google, I would have done so. If I want to see the 404 (which sometimes I do, for work), I want to see it. Google should show the 404 page, and fill the toolbar with appropriate search terms. Or have it turned off by default.

    I do not need or want a nanny search engine, any more than I want a nanny browser or OS...

  53. Alastair
    Thumb Down

    Bit of a stretch...

    El Reg does like to have a bit of a google-bash, and typically I'm all for it, but this seems like a bit of a reach to me. A piece of software that you have installed on your own machine, behaves in a particular way when 404 pages haven't been defined by the target...

    ...seems reasonable to me. Switch it off, or don't install the client software. Sounds like they've thought about the case where a 404 page _was_ defined and made best efforts. It's far less intrusive, and much easier to avoid, than your ISP intercept. It's a big stretch to say they're even the same thing.

    ...Really, calm down a bit.

  54. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: sacred bitstream

    "Once it leaves you home network it is no longer yours. You are the bitch of every router, ips, load balancer, qos shaper, inspector, and rejecter between you and the destination you think you are going to. Your packets get rewritten, rerouted, proxied and cached. And most of it is done for your benefit."

    The packet headers get rewritten. None of the operations you mention alter the semantics of the packet bodies. In the network layer there's packet loss as well, but the transport protocol repairs that to the extent that it needs to.

    If I post a letter, Royal Mail stamp the envelope with a post mark. If it initially goes to an old address, it might be re-addressed by the new occupants and reposted. I'm happy with this. I even tolerate the odd packet/letter getting lost in the post. I'd be less happy if someone opened the envelope, hashed up a modified copy of the contents, re-sealed in a clean new envelope and reposted.

  55. Jon Foster
    Stop

    You forget that users...

    ... don't normally have a clue. They will simply accept whatever happens to them - without realising that Google has wormed its way further into their lives.

    Especially when you get all the annoying toolbars packaged up to install by default... </rant>

  56. Richard Hicks
    Boffin

    @ Phil

    "The 512 byte limit is interesting because Internet Explorer will also replace any server-supplied error page with its own built-in version if it's "too small". I forget what the limit is but it's similar. So in this respect Google is only following in Microsoft's footsteps."

    Without looking further I can't tell but surely all google is doing is replacing the default internet explorer page, with a google specific one? i.e. their toolbar doesnt even have any program logic in it to deal with this... it relies instead on IE calling the default page, and has simply overwritten the current content of that page?

  57. Richard Penna

    Two minds

    On one hand, yes, this could be a useful feature. I mistype things a lot, or if I don't know the URL then google is the first place I turn to anyway.

    On the other hand, many sites' 404 pages contain a search box, or are just like a normal page on their site but with the error message where the content would usually be. Heck, some just have a link to the homepage, which is usually what you're trying to find anyway.

    I'm not entirely against this from google, but I do think that when the toolbar is installed or upgraded, it should be made crystal clear to the user that this feature is being enabled, and give them a chance to disable it. Because I agree with the remark above about many users not knowing even what the toolbar is, let alone how to modify it. I helped a friend set up their Internet a while back, and attempted to remove the Yahoo search bar from IE, but when I restarted, there it was back again. If I can't do it on first try, many users stand no chance at all, and it could be considered unethical for google to take advantage of this lack of knowledge.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We'd be missing out

    Some sites are worth visiting just for their 404 messages. A lot of creativity goes into some of them. One used to feature random crying babies (Alias, maybe?) And I remember a "Marvin" one, too.

    There's probably a website that collects these things.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    @yeah, right - switch of MSIE's trick

    "yeah, right" states that you HAVE to live with this "feature" on MSIE. Fortunately, you don't!

    In IE (v7 anyway):

    Tools -> Internet Options -> Advanced.

    Untick "Show friendly HTTP error messages" and hit OK.

    You'll always see the server error pages then - unless you've updated Adobe lately and accidentally installed Google Toolbar!

  60. John O'Grady

    Actually quite different...

    This isn't quite so bad as the ISP changing standard internet behaviour. If you don't like this "feature", turn it off. With what Verizon did, and Charter is currently doing, you have no choice, cannot opt out, and it breaks standard internet behaviour that email and web servers rely on.

    I'll qualify this opinion with "So long as they make it intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that the toolbar is doing this and that you have a choice to turn it off". If not, the we're back to Google's modified motto of "Do not so much evil".

  61. Scott Silver badge
    Boffin

    Does that 512 include images?

    Or is it just the file size of the .html?

    If it includes images, just have your logo at the top of the page. Otherwise, just paste in all your contact details at the bottom of your error page.

  62. Mark

    @Charlie

    Not so easy in the US, though. Often you have one or two options and that's often "DSL or Cable".

    Not really possible to move.

    And if it's Verizon's FIOS, they've nicked your cable so you CAN'T go back to DSL.

    Which is nice.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hysterical

    When IE does something, it's bloody evil and wrong. When google does the same thing, how could anyone be offended by this feature?

    Why so many google fans, really? Their search results have been going downhill since they appointed themselves Lords of the Universe.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wah wah wah

    Some of the comments here seem to suggest that if you've downloaded the software for free, then it can do whatever it likes to the destination system; its own fault and you shouldn't be concerned. It may be something as simple as changing a 404 error page, but it does open up the debate on what this software can and cannot do.

    I've downloaded lots and lots of freeware software claiming to do one thing, but also installing spyware in the background at the same time, should this be allowed too? It wasn't in the full description given on the source website, but hell I should just put up with it.

    My concern is that the software developers argument is that the "user can turn it off", but by default its on automatically; what a load of BS. Make the on switch more obvious then, rather than obscuring the off switch. You don't really need it, why have it on? This doesn't just happen with toolbars, and I consider it fairly unethical software engineering (be it on a tiny, tiny tiny scale report here)

    oh flip, I'm getting annoyed by sodding toolbar software, time too stop.

  65. Christopher E. Stith

    404? Really?

    Is this actually done when a server returns a 404, or is it a "server not found" error? Those two, despite confusing usage by some parties, are fundamentally different types of errors. A 404 from a server means the page isn't found but the server is. A DNS error or an invalid domain means the server was never reached.

    Also, I agree that an optional bit of software providing me a search option is not at all the same as adulterating the content of a page I'm viewing.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    But then....

    Google is guiding users in a very subtle, though somewhat questionable way. So when you go to finance.yahoo.com and the site happens to be down, rather than the user finding out that the URL is indeed correct and just not currently running, Google says "oh, you must be mistaken, I think you may have meant finance.google.com." Or perhaps they'll even sell these pages to competitors:

    "Microsoft.com? No no, surely you meant Apple.com!"

    "Theregister.co.uk is not a valid address. But you can get super valuable content at wikipedia.org."

    "Youtube.com seems to be down. Did you mean video.google.com"

    It's not unlike a bad hypnotherapist "helping" patients to uncover false memories (that are only self-serving for the therapist).

    As a few have mentioned, undoing this option is not all that obvious. Most users aren't savvy users and loyal readers of "The Register".

  67. Ed
    Joke

    Best 404 pages...

    Some can be found here, at the 404 Research Lab

    http://www.plinko.net/404/

    My favorite is their 404 of the week, this weeks.

    http://ubermotive.com/404.html

    "Thank you Mario! But the page you have requested is in another castle!"

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Thi$ is not clever

    Not to start flaming the flamers, but am I the only one that stops paying attention when someone uses the "$" in place of the "s" in Microsoft (M$). It's just a very tired cliche.

  69. Drew Cullen (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

    Re: Thi$ is not clever

    I sympathise with you, here; we thought it mildly amusing once upon a time, but got bored with "$" transposition sometime in 2000.

    Drew

    El Reg

  70. RRRoamer

    Not a bad idea

    This works for me. If I get a 404 when typing in a URL, my next step is almost 100% of the time Google anyway! This just saves me a step.

    Plus, I would MUCH rather get a suggestion from Google on what the correct web address is than some stupid 404 advert website from Verisign.

    Of course, it actually doesn't because I don't use Google's (or anyone else's) toolbar in my browsers. Nice idea though.

  71. mezla
    Flame

    Give me a break

    Everyone is going on about principals, and that's great, but come on... get real. Google aren't doing any harm whatsoever, especially considering the limitations of the effect (Google toolbar installed, 404 page < 512 bytes)

    Google is clearly trying to help, albeit with their brand name in full view. They are providing a service, and they are not withholding or changing any of the information being passed to the user by the web server (ie: page not found, 404)

    Rogers, however, is actively lying to the user, and that is the big difference.

  72. Portia

    E-Commerce

    I'd be a bit annoyed if a customer mistyped one of my pages and was sent links to competitors site...

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Drew: M$ - a suggestion for El Reg

    In the spirit of this article (web page content being rewritten by 3rd party) why not filter everyone's comments and update the M$ to MS on the server-side.

  74. Snake Plissken

    So, in summary

    If a piece of software redirects you to a place you didn't expect or indeed ask for, it is a scummy trojan except when Google does it.

    When Microsoft builds a search box into its browser (IE 7) it is monopolistic behaviour even when you can quickly switch the search engine to someone else. But when Google forces you to go to its results whether you like it or not, then that is OK too.

    When Microsoft ignores accepted standards ("Show Friendly HTTP error messages") it is patronising, but when Google does it to enhance revenues, it is a helpful feature.

    Right. Clear as mud.

  75. Quirkafleeg
    Go

    Re: The trouble with toolbars

    “I have been known to demonstrate the joy of hitting F11 to give a nice big screen to them - to exclamations of joy.”

    I find that that's done by replacing the monitor with a bigger one…

  76. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    My custom 404 at less than 512..

    so if I have something like :

    [200 bytes of HTML header/info] (200 bytes)

    [p][h1]404 - Page not found[/h1][/p] (36 bytes)

    [p]We're sorry but the page that you're looking for has not been found on this server. Please check the URL and try again. Or, visit our articles index at [50 byte url] (200 bytes)

    [50 bytes server version, and page end tags] (50 bytes)

    That gives a total of 200+36+200+50=486 bytes.

    So to defeat google (etc) hijacking.. er.. sorry, "replacing" my "default" page with something "more helpful" of theirs, I need to increase the size of my 404 page?

    Yeah, disk space is cheap, bandwidth is cheap, etc etc etc.. But still doesn't mean that to have the content *I* want displayed I need to alter my system just because google etc want to hijack and trace.. er, I mean "help their users".

    Very evil google. Don't attempt to hijack my site. Whatever I decide to serve to those who visit my site, be it a page full of whatever or a default 404 error page, is what *I* want to serve to my visitors. If you wish to use that space for making money, then you'd better be paying me. There's a reason I don't have your ads on my pages, and that is because I do not want your ads on my pages. if I do not have them there by choice it is likely that I do not want them there by theft. And that is what this is - theft. You're removing an opportunity for me to help my visitors and perhaps make a sale in the process, by putting your stuff on there instead. And you've stolen my ability to display what I want displayed.

    It is not your site. It is not your choice. Do not do this. Follow your "do no evil" line, this is very evil, so do not do it.

  77. Anthony Zacharzewski

    A sense of proportion...

    "This is very evil" (says a commenter)

    What? I know that this is the Internet, so we're meant to get hysterical about tiny little things, but even on that scale, "very evil" is a massive overstatement.

    I think it sounds like a good idea, and I support it. Does that make me a henchman?

  78. David
    Linux

    @Anthony Zacharzewski

    As one who said "very evil" (dunno why I posted AC, nothing in there deserving of that), well, my view is expressed above. (If there's any doubt, I am sure one of the wonderful people at El Reg can confirm that I am the maker of the comment above Anthony Zacharzewski's one :) )

    It is theft. Pure and simple. The user visits my site and gets a 404. Maybe because they mistyped the URL, maybe because the file never existed, maybe because I moved or deleted the file.

    My server does it's job and presents the user with a custom 404 message. A finely crafted message, telling the user helpful information and maybe even suggesting a link to the page they were after, or a link to an article index or somesuch. But, it's less than 512 bytes, and the user has recently updated adobe or somesuch.

    So, instead of the user seeing the text I want them to see, they instead get presented with some other text that does not originate from my server (even though it appears to), giving links maybe to people/places I do not want associated with my system.

    The theft is in that they've potentially taken a sale (or whatever) from me, as well as a chance to serve my user. It's also false, because what the user sees is not what I wanted them to see, and as it's deliberate then it becomes a lie as well (assuming there is nothing to say to the user that the text they're seeing has replaced the text that they should be seeing).

    Another factor is that they might display ads in there. Those ads may breach a contract I have with someone else, or they may simply be against the policies of my site.

    Either way, it is simply something that is wrong and should not be getting done.

    As to the idea of simply padding my file to be >512. No. I am not a fan of modern programming techniques. I do not follow their belief of unecessary bloat (*). If a web page says what I want it to do in less than 512 bytes, then that is all it needs to be. Why should I need to alter the size of my pages just because google is on a land grab?

    I was unaware of this issue with MSIE, since I don't support it in any form. My pages are coded to work with decent browsers. Had I been aware of that I would've said the same in relation to that. Or any other such "service" that does this.

    * Reference BOTH to Microsoft and Linux, which is by far my preferred OS. Some major dependancy issues to sort there guys - like, why should I need CVS software installed when I don't want it - but the manger wants to remove my whole desktop system to uninstall it!

    I kinda like some of, but do not use OSX, so I cannot comment on bloat levels there.

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now, now children...

    While the argument over minutia blazes on, you may want to take a break from your umbrage to check if you left any extraneous lights on in your home! Oh boy, the green computing forum is coming up soon!

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