Google Toolbar 404
(Click to Enlarge)

TechCrunch wrote an interesting article today regarding how the Google Toolbar 5 Beta for Internet Explorer “hijacks” the browser’s 404 error page. When you have the toolbar installed Google will look to see if the page you’re looking for doesn’t exist, and it will try to point you in the right direction if that’s the case. It’s just trying to give a helping hand, but TechCrunch said:

For 404 pages to be hijacked in this way, be it in all cases or only some, removes the rights of the webmaster to decide what a user sees when visiting all parts of their website, and that’s something many will find wrong.

I installed the Google Toolbar 5 Beta to see just how this worked, and the toolbar only shows the “Oops! This link appears broken.” message when the webmaster hasn’t designated a custom 404 error page. So I’m wondering what the problem is? As you can see in the screenshot above the Google 404 error page recommended a lot of useful stuff when I tried to pull up a part of our forum that didn’t exist.

I was also really surprised to see anyone care about this since it can be disabled in the settings as I expected. Just pull up the configuration and uncheck the Browse by name in the address bar option. Voila! And Google does provide the instructions on how to turn it off right there on the error page. Just click on the “Why am I seeing this page?” link.

When looking at this I made sure to remember that users “choose” to install the toolbar (I use the term “choose” loosely since toolbars like this are often bundled with application installers), and therefore accept any features it offers. What do you think? Is this just another step towards Google’s plan to takeover the world?