Microsoft will be able to subvert the content of any Web page with Smart Tags, which will act much like hyperlinks to Web content which Redmond either recommends, or is paid to recommend, if the company integrates the technology with its Windows-XP browser, as predicted in an article from Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
Smart Tags are already included in Office-XP, enabling users to implant a hyperlink-esque reference into data files using XML (Extensible Markup Language), and may be rather handy at that; but integrating them into the XP version of Internet Explorer opens up an entire new realm of on-line commercial perversions.
Assuming the Journal's prediction holds true, we can imagine, for example, that if this page were being viewed with a Smart-Tag-enabled browser, our reference to XML above could be highlighted automatically, inviting readers to pop over to Microsoft's own PR output, cheerfully burbling about its miraculous benefits.
On the other hand, we might prefer to refer our readers to a Web page denouncing XML; but whether we would or not, it ought to be our own editorial judgment which determines what links will and won't appear on our pages.
Furthermore, a reference, say, to a certain popular, white crystalline nose-rotting powder might inspire a Smart-Tag link to an advertisement for a certain carbonated water, sugar and caramel-color tooth-rotting drink known by the same name.
We're not sure we like the idea of generating copy that can be automatically converted into advertising for which we're not getting paid. And we don't imagine our venerable advertisers are going to be especially thrilled about it either.
The Smart Tag browser feature will be turned off by default in the XP final release, and MS will provide a meta tag that site owners can use to prevent Smart Tags from appearing on their sites, the Journal says.
And it will of course be possible for MS' competitors to create their own Smart Tags, but we wonder what that really means when the vast majority of surfers are going to be taken for a ride around the Web on Microsoft's virtual conveyances.
In all, this sounds like a grotesquely tasteless bit of consumerist schlock of the sort MS just adores; and we haven't begun to contemplate the security implications of Smart Tags in combination with maliciously-crafted Web pages.
But we know our beloved readers will rise to the challenge and propose a plethora of devious mis-uses for Redmond's most recent on-line marketing toy. ®