Are Google and Dell up to something naughty?

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Will Head writes…

In an effort to improve revenues on its PC sales – where margins are notoriously slim even if you run a lean, mean, just-in-time delivery machine – Dell has teamed up with Google to bring in a few more pennies on the machines it sells.

However, the actions have been branded tantamount to bundling spyware on the machines by OpenDNS which thinks the tactics are questionable at best and a bit dodgy at worst.

It all comes down to the rewards Google offers to people that can bring it large amounts of traffic. Send enough eyeballs its way and it’ll happily split some of the resulting ad revenue they generate with you.

For example, Firefox brought in $53m in 2005, a large proportion of which came from the Google search box in the top right hand corner. Do a search via that box, click an advert and Firefox gets a cut of the revenue.

Dell originally agreed to pre-install the Google toolbar on its machines, but now it’s apparently including an additional application that steps in if you type in an incorrect address.

Type in digg.xom, for example, and rather than get the normal error message, you instead end up on this page, plastered with adverts. The only way to prevent this is to uninstall an application called the “Browser Address Error Redirector”, which doesn’t obviously stand out as the program responsible for this behaviour.

Of course, it should be noted, OpenDNS offers a similar service – although you have to actively opt in to its system and it automatically redirects typos like that to the correct address without showing search results or sponsored links.

The real problem is that the consumer that bought a Dell machine didn’t opt in to such a service. But with clearly big incentives from such services, and ever tighter retail margins, it doesn’t look like this is the last we’ll hear of such tactics.

Will Head