Is Gator Highjacking your Banner Ads?

Gator is currently coming under a lot of scrutiny because of its unethical advertising practices whereby they literally switch authorized and paid advertising on web sites and replace them with ads of their clients.

We are all familiar with the concept of paid advertising on TV & Radio which is sponsored by companies who pay to have their products advertised television or radio shows. On the internet we use rotation banners and pop-up advertising which are paid for or sponsored in much the same way as TV commercials. We work with banner exchange programs, sometimes we use sponsored adverting of other businesses which we have developed relationships with or who pay us for the ad space many of us even develop our own rotation ads for our promotional specials.

To fully understand what Gator is doing I will use the following analogy -- imagine that Ford has paid for a one minute spot during half time of the superbowl. They (Ford) paid money for the time slot directly to NBC but unknown to NBC or Ford, Gator switched the ad and replaced it with one for Chrysler right at air time and never paid NBC or Ford a dime! That is exactly the "slight of hand" advertising practice which Gator is perpetrating on the internet! Here is an interesting article which explains this concept in more depth: Is gatoring unfair or illegal?

To generate it's information for it's targeted ads Gator markets and distributes a free software that also utilizes adware/spyware components to gather information about web surfers surfing habits and then uses the information to generate highly targeted advertisements to it's users and also allows them the ability to switch ads on the internet.

Gator is distributed in a number of free and low cost software programs and it can also be installed on a computer by visiting a web site which has it's activeX installer.
Gator has provided advertisements to some major corporations including: 1-800 Flowers, Allstate Insurance, Apple Store, Avon, CapitalOne Mastercard, Chrysler, Columbia House, Disneyland Resort, Dollar Rental Car, Expedia, First Premier Bank,, Hooked on Phonics, ING Direct, LoJack, Movielink, Orbitz, Palm, Priceline, Radisson, Rail Europe, Sun Microsystems, Thrifty Rental Cars, Time-Life, Travelocity, uBid, University of Phoenix, Verizon DSL, Western Union Bidpay

An additional and alarming facet of this combined practice is that Gator has the ability to gather detailed personal information about its users which it can also sell to 3rd parties. This software can be found as free downloads on hundreds of free download sites including Cnet and Tucows and is being distributed to unsuspecting consumers who know nothing about the true nature of what Gator is doing. Gator can also installed merely by visiting many websites that have chosen to be paid by Gator to include the installer links in their pages.

When Gator came under fire from the Internet Advertising Bureau and Online Publishers Association for these unethical practices Gator responded by a filing a law suit against the IAB to prevent them from restricting their (Gator's) Advertising practices. The state of all this is still undetermined, in the mean while Gator continues to switch advertising on the internet with the assistance of it's "shopping companion" and continues to manage unsuspecting consumers personal information. For more information on Gator's spyware capabilities please see our article Is Gator Spyware?

Now in an effort to disassociate itself from the "spyware" label which has been hung around it's neck the company has changed it's name to Claria Corporation.

We hope that our viewers will not be fooled by this more innocent sounding name because once a Gator - always a Gator - even if it now wants to go by the name Claria! After reading about this name change I could envision a cute cartoon character of a Gator with big round eyes, long eye lashes and a cute little bonnet who still has great big teeth to bit you with! (like the Big Bad Wolf pretending to be Little Red Riding Hood's Sweet old Grandma - which is not to far off from their current logo) We will try to keep our views updated as to any new developments related to this name change, but to our knowledge they are still installing the same things on users computers.

Gator has broadened the reach of their notorious advertisements and is currently partnered with several major search engines (i.e. Overture, Terra Lycos and FindWhat) to deliver pop-under ads on other search sites through the use of their Search Scout toolbar.

SearchScout is owned and operated through Gator's new corporate identity of Claria Corporation. Users who install the new SearchScout toolbar will be displayed pop-under advertisements via Gator's GAIN network which will be triggered by search terms and particular site content. Unfortunately many persons downloading the software don't realize they are agreeing to receive ads in exchange for its use.

Gator Investigative Report

We have found and interesting in depth report by a Harvard University researcher which investigates how Gator's advertising system works and shows how Gator Pop-Up ads get triggered as well as information on how particular web sites get targeted. The report is written by Ben Edelman who has also testified as an expert witness against Gator in at least one legal challenge to its service. This is a must read for anyone who is interested understanding how Gator works.

Unfortunate Legal Decision

A recent court decision is a serious set back for the rights of web site owners and consumers alike. The court decision allows software marketing companies like Gator & WhenU to fall back little read "terms of use" agreements to win legal battles regarding their unethical marketing practices. The decision, which regards WhenU advertising practices, could influence lawsuits involving other "adware," companies like Gator, which, like, develops Internet "helper" applications (adware) that often come bundled with popular free software products. Although the current court decision is connected to BHO applications that come bundled with popular free software distributed by Galt Technologies and WhenU/SaveNow it does not bode well for web site owners who wish to protect their property rights.

WhenU and other online marketing giants like Gator claim that their marketing practices are legal because consumers "agree" to receive advertisements and associated software in exchange for other software products and sign user licensing agreements. Unfortunately what the court did not understand is that many of these adware programs use ActiveX controls to download their software onto consumers computers and although many ActiveX installations will often provide an alert that a download is about to take place there is little explanation about what is being installed and many novice computer users will often choose "yes" thinking that the browser is merely installing a plugin that is needed to display content on the web site. Furthermore, many ActiveX installations can also take place quietly in the background with out a users knowledge if they do not have their security settings set high enough to display an alert message.

It is a shame that the court was not made aware of these facts and that there are reports that variants of WhenU/SaveNow has utilized ActiveX installs to perform drive-by-download installations from pop-ups (often coupled with 'ClockSync' or 'WeatherCast') to infect computers without the users knowledge and although Gator claims that it's software is not spyware and states that they notify users of it's capablilities before their software is downloaded it to has reportedly been installed on to consumers computers while they were visiting web sites that have chosen to be paid by Gator to include ActiveX installers in their web pages that allow a Gator trickler file to quietly download in the background without the users knowledge.

This legal ruling has deep implications to web site owners and needs to be challenged since many of these ad serving programs are in fact installed on users computers with out their full knowledge, consent or understanding of what they do.

An alternative program for gator is Roboform: They do not bombard you with popup ads and their website gives instructions on how to convert your Gator passwords into RoboForm. All personal data that you enter into AI RoboForm Identities and PassCards is stored locally on your computer. RoboForm does NOT cause your personal data to leave your computer. RoboForm does NOT monitor or send information about sites that you visit or any information about your browsing. RoboForm is NOT a spyware.

Written by Debbie St.Clair
Reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

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