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The Gator Corporation makes several free applications that are distributed over the Internet. (On October 30, 2003, the company changed its name to Claria Corporation, but continues to operate in the same way it did before the name change.) Gator/Claria products are often delivered to end-users by being bundled with other applications or through "drive-by downloads" that pop up an ActiveX dialog and start the installation process if you say "Yes".
Gator applications include eWallet, DateManager, WeatherScope, and PrecisionTime. eWallet keeps track of the data you enter on web forms (including credit cards) so it can autofill the data for you later. DateManager provides appointment alarms and date reminders. WeatherScope shows the current and forecast weather. PrecisionTime keeps your system clock up to date.
GAIN Publishing (GAIN stands for Gator Advertising Information Network) is the part of Gator/Claria that distributes the applications and includes the advertising software that is a part of all Gator Corporation applications. GAIN ad software is also bundled as a part of several adware applications such as DivX Pro from DivX Networks.
A Growing Problem
PC Pitstop believes that Gator products can degrade the quality of a user's PC experience, and the applications themselves are not a good value. This belief is based on our hands-on use of Gator products, surveys of users that have Gator on their systems, and visitor feedback from our forums. Most Gator "users" are not aware of what Gator is doing on their PC behind the scenes, and even many advertisers are not aware their ads are being shown by Gator's ad network through third-party contracts or Gator's connection with Overture.
Drive-by download: Have you seen a dialog like this pop up while browsing? Answer YES and you will install a Gator application.
Gator's marketing power lets them put ad-delivery software onto systems with high efficiency, using techniques such as drive-by downloads. Gator claims more than 35 million people currently have GAIN on their systems. If our survey results hold for the general population of Gator users, only a small minority of them consciously agreed to installing Gator's software and accepted its terms. Even if our information campaign can reach 20% of users with Gator, there are still going to be millions that are unaware.
As the self-proclaimed "leader in online behavioral marketing," Gator should set an example by obtaining verifiably informed consent from users that install its applications. Based on what we have found, Gator's current procedures do not give users adequate notice when it is installed, and users aren't getting clear instructions for how to remove it when it is installed inadvertently. PC users, advertisers, and perhaps even the Federal Trade Commission need to draw a clear line on what constitutes adequate disclosure.
What does Gator/GAIN do?
As a general rule, Gator applications do a lot more than the original purpose that may have persuaded you to download them. Some of these things are spelled out in Gator's license, that very long document that most users inevitably don't read very carefully.
GAIN displays advertising. A lot of pop-up advertising if you visit popular web sites or search for advertiser's hot words like "auto loan". Our experience was that its advertising was sometimes poorly targeted and therefore unlikely to be helpful.
GAIN interrupts your work. Usually, your computer does things as a result of your own actions. GAIN actions don't follow that pattern. Their ads are often timed to pop up a few seconds after you've finished clicking on a link or entering data, which can be very distracting. If you want some more examples, see our review of Search Scout.
Several Web publishers said they have been approached by L90 or Gator to run such download ads, but they refused out of fear of a consumer backlash. "We thought it was dirty," said one Internet executive who asked to remain anonymous. "It's the kind of thing that makes the phone ring." (cnet.com)
GAIN can install software without your knowledge. With so many security issues on the Internet, it is important to know when and why software is being installed on your system. Our survey shows that most users do not know how GAIN got onto their system, and Gator can install even more software without further notice.
GAIN collects extensive information. Perhaps Gator doesn't know who you are, but it certainly collects a lot of information when you consider all the things that the company lists in its Terms and Conditions. Take our Gator license quiz and see how well you know it.
GAIN uses up valuable system resources. Gator's simple WeatherScope application takes up about 14 megabytes of memory because of the GAIN software that comes with it. It also uses up 15 percent of system resources on Windows Me. On systems with small amounts of memory this can degrade performance or cause system instability.
Judge For Yourself
Repeatedly, Gator has represented that users agree to install Gator software and consent to its license terms. Our own research and conclusions contradict Gator's claims. In particular:
Privacy and security experts say advertisers and other bundled software distributors are exploiting people's mindless habit of clicking "I agree," and they worry that consumers are abandoning their rights with the click of a mouse. (cnet.com)
Most users are not fully informed and have not agreed. Our research shows users cannot recall installing Gator at all, How could they be aware of the Gator terms and conditions, much less have consented to the actions that Gator is taking on their PC?
Users don't know what Gator is doing with the information it collects. Although Gator's privacy statement says that it doesn't collect personally identifiable information, Gator doesn't say much about how it uses the data it does collect. When asked about an investigation of Gator's data collection practices, Gator's own spokesperson said, "Eighty percent of the magic is what he'll never see. He's only touching a part of the elephant."Join the discussion in our forum!