Why I removed Google toolbar

Today, after having Google toolbar on my browser for more than two years, and an integral part of my web browsing experience, I removed it. I did this after I suddenly noticed Google Sidewiki on browser pages (image below, look on left corner) and realized that Google had turned on Google Sidewiki without my permission. Sidewiki is not just another button on the toolbar. It takes space on every browser window – on the left. I know the designer of the Sidewiki and think it looks like a good product. But I did not request it on my browser, and I don’t want my web experience hijacked in this way.

The second thing I noticed was that Google toolbar was taking over new tabs I opened in Firefox. Image attached. Once again, this is invasive – taking over a webpage without my permission. I have setup Firefox for new tabs to be blank. Even if Google provides useful information – I don’t want them to alter my web experience without my asking for it.

The third and final straw was when I noticed that Google was also taking over 404 pages. Image below of what I see when I visit this URL. I was told that Google has been doing this for sometime, but I have not seen it before. While I can imagine this is useful, I did not ask for this option – I asked to see what the website publisher put up, not Google’s helpful 404 page.

Time was when Google products used to stand on their own two feet. We use Google Docs since it is the best way to solve document collaboration for a small company. Gmail – since it is the best web based email service out there. Google Maps since its the best web mapping service. And Google search since its the best search engine. These services did not grow because Google sneakily turned on some options on user’s toolbars. They grew since they are great services (similar to Android which is gaining buzz and I am looking forward to trying it).

But for other products, seems like Google has left that discipline behind and is using invasive marketing tactics to grow new products and grab real estate on people’s browsers. I expect such tactics from sleazy companies like OfferPal, not from Google whose products I love.

Instead of making excellent products that users love (which Google knows how to), they often opt for the quick path. Millions of toolbar installs are an easy way to grow Sidewiki and many people will not even remember that they never turned Sidewiki on. But its a lazy way to grow and sooner or later users will not accept the latest feature / product you impose upon them, or just start ignoring the toolbar options altogether.

17 thoughts on “Why I removed Google toolbar

  1. Unfortunately that can’t be turned off if you use Chrome. I do agree that it is sneaky in the context of the toolbar, but I can appreciate it, from a design perspective, given that this is a “feature” of Chrome, that they were attempting to make it a more consistent experience across browsers by enabling it via toolbar. I am not saying it is a good decisions, just that I can appreciate why that type of decision is made. Misguided in my opinion, I hate it as a user.

  2. Great post Rashmi,
    I haven’t had Sidewiki invade my FF experience, but also noticed with some weariness this thing where Google was taking over new tabs now.

    I agree with you that its great that they have good ideas and great products, but when they think that they know better than you what you need, then its a problem.

    I need to reconsider the toolbar as well now.

  3. @livia
    The web is all about freedom – the best search engine is a click away from the worst one. From what I hear Chrome can succeed on the basis of the speed factor, they should provide the option to turn it off (or allow add-ons like Firefox does).

    This smells Microsoft – lets use our dominance in one way to grab real estate.

    The designer of sidewiki explained to me that the Sidewiki option might have been turned on since I had PageRank turned on. The two are very different things though – I don’t know why Google should presume that if I want the PageRank button, I will also want the Sidewiki option.

  4. Someone has to pay for the web. This stuff is not cheap to build or maintain. Imagine for a moment that I could obtain whatever product or service you provide (make a living with) for free from a high quality provider. Then what?

    This is the new face of profitable business operations in a new age. Leave the off line assumptions behind or start your own enterprise, get funding, develop a browser and solve the problem. While you are at it, maybe you can demonstrate to the ppl at Twitter how much their property looks like Dubai World.

  5. @tom

    I run a web business myself and understand the economics (and that someone has to pay). The most profitable part of Google’s business is contextual advertising. These land grabs are peanuts compared to the type of spread they have all over the web.

    And the biggest thing that Google has is a brand people believe in. Time and again, search studies doing blind comparisons between various search sites, show that the Google name matters.

    Google needs to guard that trust more than it needs such minor land grabs.

  6. I’m really very surprised to hear that you were using it at all.

    Toolbar has always been an evil product. Evil, evil, evil. (Not just Google, everyone’s toolbars). I sincerely hope you turned off the *default* “track everything I browse” option while you were using it.

    What is scary is that Chrome is replacing this with un-installable mechanisms — the new “URL suggestion” feature now enables them to capture all your nav queries, in addition to browse trails via Adsense.

    I didn’t mean to scare anyone, but this just gets too creepy given that no one has really thought about the long term consequences.

  7. People have always been up in arms about Google Toolbar’s autoupdate policy. They’ve made it clear that you don’t own the toolbar, they do. Reference their forums (and EULA) for historical context.

    But I suspect that this is half user error as well. There are usually fairly prominent update announcements when a new feature or version has been updated. Are you *sure* you didn’t see (or ignore) a notification or Yes/No dialog? I’m not saying this practice makes everything alright, but I am saying it’s better than what you are painting as some surreptitious drive by install…

  8. Excellent insight.

    Makes me remember why I had originally installed it in the first place years ago – it was to solve one simple thing – I wanted GMAIL to pop when I clicked on email links (instead of Outlook) when I was using FF. As simplistic as that sounds, that was my only reason.

    I’ve grown to use one other feature, which was to login to my Google Account, right from the toolbar. So I guess that makes 2 use cases.

    But you’re right about the “drive by” installs…and there seems to be a technical matter as well – at least on Windows.

    FF runs much slower with more of these additional options turned on. On certain instances, the FF process doesn’t terminate properly (even if you close the browser, the process is still running). So aside from doing the requisite Task Manager shutdown procedure, I’ve been able to get rid of this simply by turning off more of the features (and getting back to my original GMAIL and Google Account login use cases).

    And finally, a pet peeve – it interferes with my auto-complete username/password logins. I know it sound like making things more secure, but hey, I’m in IT and can decide which sites I use this FF feature on (Remember Login). To get it back, disable the add on altogether.

    So while I can probably live with all the new features, one thing it should not do is interfere, modify and render useless the host/program its running on in these ways (wow, I’d never thought I’d equate a Google product with “parasite” but that sentence sounds like it). Or if that was the intent all along, then offer ways, tips on how to do that.

    Thanks for your insight. Good day.

  9. Rashmi,

    Well said!

    Hijacking 404 pages is the hallmark of malware. The alexa toolbar did this pissing me off. I am surprised that Google would do it. Plain greed I guess, the 404 pot is worth about $1B/year.

  10. Thanks for the opinion, I also removed the Toolbar about a year ago. Since the search field is now integrated in the browser there is no more need. Years ago I was often watching at the green Pagerank item in the toolbar trying to evalute the watched site with it. absolutely useless behavior. Remove it and feel free :)

  11. Hello Rashmi,

    First of all, Google does not need your permission to add a feature to the toolbar.

    Second, you accept the agreement of the toolbar when you download it.

    Third, the Sidewiki will not take any space unless you activate it , and you could enable or disable the notification bar.

    Fouth, you may go to Toolbar setting, choose options and the unchech the Sidewiki.


  12. @mark

    If you read my original post, my problem was that the sidewiki was activated without any action on my part. And yes, I accept Google’s terms for toolbar when I download it, but it does not mean that they can add entirely new products on my browser without my permission.

    FYI, the Google sidewiki team acknowledged that what I reported should not happen, and are looking into this.

  13. Pingback: Why I removed Google toolbar « Chicago Mac/PC Support

  14. I agree with you I have experienced the same when without my permission Google invades my webspace with 404 message which is now coming more and more while searching for other service providers product/s which I use for email and blog frequently.

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