Tag Archives: Claria Corporation

Claria Goes Into Search

Claria, formerly Gator and allegedly the brief focus of Microsoft interest, has announced it is working on a new search engine technology which “goes far beyond analyzing links to pages and hypertext matching, and instead evaluates how consumers actually interact with search results when they are seeking information on the Web”.

I don’t claim to really understand what they’re doing here, but the press release seems to suggest that Claria would both collect extensive user data but also offer that aggregated data to users so they can better judge search results: Claria’s press release is here:

“Even in this early stage of technology, this represents a clear ‘step function’ improvement in search methodology and relevancy,” said Jeff McFadden, president and CEO of Claria Corporation. “Over time and with more users, these types of personalization technologies will allow consumers a richer, more customized online experience. For example, a college student and a business executive who are both searching for ‘hotels in China’ would appreciate vastly different results. Ultimately, this is the power that personalization can provide – with technology automatically customizing information for the consumer.”

Could be interesting, could be creepy. Certainly personalized search is the next hilltop to scale, and this makes some sense for Claria, who need to get out of the hole they’re in.

Microsoft and Claria: It May Never Have Been On, But Now It’s Off

It’s hard to know how serious this ever was but whatever, it’s now over, according to ClickZ News, who reports the Microsoft/Claria Deal Dead:

Microsoft has ended its acquisition talks with behavioral targeting firm Claria, ClickZ News has learned from a source close to the discussions. Another Microsoft source later confirmed that report.

A Microsoft staffer, who asked not to be identified, characterized the end of the talks as driven by concerns about a PR fallout that could follow a Claria purchase. That company has, in the past, been associated with spyware.

The source says Microsoft will likely consider buying other companies with behavioral targeting technology, but no one is “officially in scope at this time.”

Certainly Microsoft was losing some major PR ground with the rumour bouncing around, and it didn’t help that folk were noticing some (possibly coincidental) tweaking of its own Antispyware assessments of Claria/Gator threats.

Microsoft’s Antispyware Turns Neutral on Claria?

(Sorry, a few days late with this.) Further to the reports of talks between Microsoft and adware maker Claria (formerly Gator), spyware/adware expert Ben Edelman points to a website discussion that highlights an apparent conflict of interest should Microsoft Buy Claria: What would Microsoft’s own anti-spyware software make of Claria’s adware?

A Dozleng.com post reports that Microsoft’s Anti-Spyware Beta now recommends that users “ignore” Claria. To confirm this result, I downloaded Claria’s DashBar and Precision Time products, then installed MSAS, all on a fresh virtual PC that hadn’t previously run any of these programs. MSAS’s recommendation and default action was “Ignore.”

In contrast, when last I ran MSAS on a PC with Claria software installed, MSAS recommended removing these same programs. This is exactly the kind of conflict of interest I worried about three paragraphs above — but I didn’t anticipate how quickly this problem would come into effect!

There are some more comments collected here. One website, Sunbelt Software, which receives updates from Microsoft but has its own inhouse research lab, reports that the change in recommendation from Quarantine or Remove to Ignore took place on March 31. Sunbelt’s Alex Eckelberry writes:

At any rate, does this mean that Claria will, in fact, be purchased by Microsoft? Not necessarily. It could mean, however, that the two companies are working together in some other capacity, or that Claria has successfully lobbied Microsoft to change the default action. Or, it’s a simple oversight.

I can’t help feeling that if it was an oversight, it would have been corrected by now. And, as Ben Edelman points out, it’s not possible to check a list of Microsoft’s decisions on this kind of thing, where Microsoft lets users know what’s no longer being detect etc.. .

Compare Microsoft’s neutral ‘Ignore’ recommendation with nearly all other antispyware/adware programs that do, according to the Spyware Warrior website, detect Claria products, and, where they make a recommendation, suggest they be removed.

Bottom line? I’m with Ben: I think whatever bits of Claria Microsoft is interested in, conflicts of interest rear their head and the company’s efforts to burnish its image as security guardian will be lost, virtually overnight.

WhenU’s Popup Victory

WhenU, now known as Claria, has won what it calls an “important decision for the entire Internet industry” in its motion to enjoin the Utah Spyware Control Act, passed in March. WhenU had argued the Act “affects legitimate Internet advertising companies and therefore violates the First Amendment and dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, among other laws”. (Here’s a CNET story on the verdict.)

If I understand the ruling correctly (and this is based largely on Ben Edelman’s assistance), the judge has ruled that, in this particular law, Utah was unconstitutional in trying to limit popups, while it was within the constitution in trying to outlaw spyware — or more specifically, software that is installed without a licence and lack a proper uninstall procedure. As the judge did no want to break the act in half he ruled in favour of a preliminary injunction for WhenU. Ben, who works as a consultant for the Utah government, reckons WhenU could lose on appeal, since under Utah law, the judge “is obliged to regard the act as ‘severable'” — in other words, that he can keep parts and discard parts.

Avi Naider, WhenU’s Chief Executive Officer, meanwhile, is celebrating his victory. “Spyware is a problem and we want to put an end to it,” he says in a press release. “WhenU supports appropriate anti-spyware legislation at the federal level, but unfortunately Utah’s Act also impairs legitimate Internet advertising.”

Gmail, Gator and Spam

Gmail: Better than spam?  

ClickZ reports that an interesting side effect of Google’s new ad-supported email application, Gmail, are contextual ads from competitors. “Because the contextual ads are targeted based on e-mail message content, as determined by Google’s technology, commercial messages are the ones most likely to trigger ads. That’s because they’re most likely to contain commercial product or brand names, for which Google’s AdWords advertisers frequently buy keywords,” writes ClickZ’s Pamela Parker.

A recent newsletter from fashion vendor Neiman Marcus, for example, triggered ads with the headlines “Kate Spade Handbags,” “Ferragamo at Neoluxury” and “Prada Handbags.” Listings were for BizRate.com, Neoluxury.com and FinestDesigners.com, respectively. Interestingly, all of these must have been triggered purely by the subject line — “Salvatore Ferragamo: Shop the spring collection of shoes, handbags, and more” – since the email content was in the form of pictures, “none of which display by default in the Gmail client,” says ClickZ. What’s more, in a default view in Gmail, a reader would only see the competitors’ ads unless they selected to display external images.

The ClickZ article — itself entitled “Gmail: The Next Gator?” — suggests the situation is “akin to the kind of competitive pop-up ads that have generated controversy (and legal action) for Claria, the renamed company that fires its own ads to users, blotting out those designed to be there by a website’s creator.

What’s interesting here is that, tied in with Google’s recent decision to allow advertisers to bid on trademarked keywords they don’t own, you could see “a message from Banana Republic (for example), simply because of its subject line, trigger ads from J. Crew, Eddie Bauer and the like”.

I haven’t mulled over all the consequences of this, but I don’t see it as exactly similar to Gator. An email newsletter is not facing the obliteration or alteration of its message, design and website integrity in the same way a Gatored website is. But I can see a couple of other possible outcomes:

  • Google’s Gmail suddenly makes a whole lot more commercial sense. Marketers can reach into your inbox more effectively than any spammer. If I sold Gucci handbags, for example, all I have to do is buy ads for every competing brand of fashion handbag and I could be sure that my ads would reach every Gmail account holder interested in the subject, because they’re bound at some point to write about it in an email, or receive an email on it, either from a friend or a supplier;
  • I would imagine this would prod marketing newsletters to move to RSS quite quickly. There they can be a little more confident, for now, that their ‘message’ is not diluted by by contextual ads.

I think this will be more relevant than the discussion about privacy. End users might be quite happy to get contextual ads alongside their handbag newsletter. But they might be more alarmed if they see contextual ads for psychiatric help if they get an email from a friend describing how they went ‘crazy’ on Saturday night, or, more seriously, ads for cancer treatment if they discuss how a family member is coping with his prostate. When does contextual advertising go beyond ‘well targeted’ to become ‘scarily intrusive’?

Phishing And The Pop-up

Speaking to Well Fargo Online’s Wendy Grover this morning, I realised there’s a dimension to the debate about pop-ups that hadn’t occurred to me before: Phishing.

The central argument used by companies such as Wells Fargo in their long-running litigation against the likes of WhenU and Gator (now Claria) is that they confuse the user. These services, they say, hoodwink the user into downloading software that will track their browsing habits and, in the case of WhenU, replace existing ads on a website with their own. Surveys, Wendy Grover says, baffle the end user who didn’t know the software was installed and believe the pop-up ads they do see are from the website itself, not WhenU.

Until lately this was all a little academic. Privacy issues were at the fore. But now that banks and financial institutions are being targeted by sophisticated scammers who create convincing looking emails and websites to fool users into entering their passwords, it no longer seems so. If users are confused about the origin pop-ups on banking websites, then it illustrates their vulnerability to being duped by an entirely fake website. Wells Fargo themselves have been the target of several phishing expeditions.

Customers, we have to acknowledge, do not know exactly what’s going in their browser, and while educating them helps, misleading programs adding third party content don’t.  ”It’s very important that customers know where they are and where they’re entering their information,” says Grover. I’d tend to agree.

New: Gator Changes Name, But That’s All

 A rose by any other name? CNET reports that Gator, the controversial advertising software and e-wallet company, has “changed its name to better reflect its business in behavioral marketing”. The change, CNET says, distances the company from a name that has become synonymous with “spyware”–that is, ad-tracking software that can be installed surreptitiously.
 
Despite landing such Fortune 500 advertisers as American Express and Target, the company has had difficulty dispelling the negative connotations of its software. It also has faced several lawsuits for its advertising practices. In recent weeks it has gone on the offensive, launching a legal offensive to divorce its name from the hated term ‘spyware’, with some success. In response to a libel lawsuit, antispyware company PC Pitstop has settled with Gator and pulled Web pages critical of the company, its practices and its software.

Software: See Ya Later, ‘Gator

 Here’s one way to get rid of spyware and adware — software that’s inveigled its way onto your computer and is phoning home on your browsing habits, usually to throw unwanted ads onto your screen. interMute, Inc. has released a new version of SpySubtract, that detects and safely removes spyware and security threats, which includes a special feature to wipeout software from Gator Corp. – a major Web pop-up advertising company that uses spyware technology to profile and target users.
 
SpySubtract’s free version allows PC users to easily detect and remove spyware. For $29.95, users can upgrade to SpySubtract PRO, which provides spyware database updates to protect against newly discovered spyware and worms.

News: Court says Gator-style ads are legal

  Good news for Gator, the adware company I wrote about a few weeks back. According to CNET News.com a federal court has ruled that pop-up ads for rivals of U-Haul International, placed atop the moving company’s own site by a third-party software application from WhenU.com, are legal.
 
 
Although the case doesn’t involve Gator Corp, it may well have an impact on them. Gator, like WhenU.com, peddles an Internet “helper” application that dishes ads up to people while they are surfing the Web or visiting specific sites — usually over the top of, or near, those of rivals. The judge granted WhenU’s motion to dismiss charges of trademark infringement, unfair competition and copyright infringement.

CNET says: “The early decision could influence lawsuits involving a more well-known ad-software, or “adware,” company, Gator Corporation.” In February, Gator settled a case brought by among other media companies, Dow Jones, which publish the newspaper, website and magazine I write for. Other lawsuits, CNET says, have been consolidated and will be decided by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C.