Dave: thank you for your response. And that’s a genuine thank you, not a sarcastic thank you. That said, I had hoped that, despite the satirical tone, my previous post on this topic at least contained enough solid arguments to be considered slightly intelligent. But perhaps not. My tone (and use of the word “obsession”, which I think is at least partially justified since you’ve been repeatedly focusing on this topic for over a week now) came from an exasperation at seeing you and many others drawn in to a pointless and potentially harmful battle.
Sarcasm and its problems aside, the point that I was trying to make was that (as you pointed out to me with the sentence starting “When you take that first step down the slope…”) your prime argument against the AutoLink feature is a slippery slope fallacy. The Google AutoLink feature is a fundamentally useful one now. Since it must be directly activated on each page, it does not defraud the user into fooling them that the content they are seeing is as it was originally created. (Surely they would only press the button if the content was lacking in useful links) It does not remove or replace any existing links or ads. It only does something for which the user has specifically asked.
The argument that you raise in your response to me hinges on what Google/Microsoft/A.N.Other BigCo might do but haven’t. To which I say: well, when they do something that actually is fraudulent or dangerous, we’ll complain about it then. You are saying that AutoLink legitimises the wilful changing of content in its passage between creator and user; I say that it does nothing that the user has not specifically asked for. And if the user has asked for it, there is no reason why they should not have it; after all, they could save the HTML to their hard drive and edit it for exactly the same effect. (In fact, the user could do far more wilful damage to HTML than the AutoLink feature does.) Content creators should not have to provide specific opt-in permission; if they had to do this for every such feature out there, most of them would never work.
You say you care. I agree, you obviously care, and I don’t dispute that. However, we clearly have very different ideas about what is good for the web. My argument is that AutoLink is both harmless to the web and good for users. It is a useful feature and I don’t think it does anything worth pulling out of users’ hands. You say that it breaks a taboo about content modification; I say that taboo has never existed, and useful content modification (by both clients and servers) has been happening since the web began. It is a vital feature of the web that has been implemented in a thousand different ways, most of them useful (pop-up blockers, screen readers and mobile-format filters are just some of the ones that immediately spring to mind). Please don’t devalue this feature by saying that this one harmless user-invoked Google function will somehow lead the web to doom.
I’m not saying that harmful content filters will never appear; they have in the past and doubtless will do again. But, as Cory said, what makes them harmful is not content modification, it’s fraud. This distinction must be made, or it may end up scaring people into disabling much of what makes the web great. And this is why I disagree with your fight: I don’t think that, in this particular case, it’s helping.
UPDATE: Yet another response. (Last one, honest. Really.)