Spybot type programs
- Excellent explanation of adware and Gator in particular and its
problems. From Fred Langa's newsletter.
1) Gator Information Center
Gator--- which has just renamed itself to "Claria"--- is a advertising
company that makes money primarily through banner ads and popups placed
inside small software gizmos it distributes for free, as a way to get
people to view its ads. Gator/Claria calls this "in-context behavioral
advertising," but the common name for their software products is
"adware." Gator/Claria was one of the very first companies in the adware
business. Today, they are one of the most successful--- perhaps *the*
most successful--- adware companies going.
On the plus side, adware (from any company--- not just Gator/Claria) can
be OK: You get "free" software, and the vendor makes some money off ads.
But there are negatives. For example, lots of adware makes use of "phone
home" components to update the embedded ads, and these components can be-
-- and sometimes have been--- used for snooping. That's why this kind of
software is also often called "spyware." Not all adware is spyware, and
not all phone-home components are used for snooping, but the potential
for misuse is there.
There can be other problems. The phone-home elements consume bandwidth
and may even trigger unwanted dial-outs on phone-based systems. They
also often run as nearly-constant background tasks, even if the ad-
supported software itself isn't active. Thus, the mere presence of
adware on your system can eat up a *lot* of CPU cycles and slow down
your system, even when the main adware application isn't running.
Worse, some adware vendors use less-than-forthright installation
processes. Sometimes, adware hides behind fake error messages designed
to trick unwary users into thinking they're responding to a system
message or a normal dialog box, when they're really accepting or
triggering the installation of an adware package.
Some adware vendors also set things up so their software tries to auto-
install when you merely visit a web page--- sometimes called a "drive-by
download." You don't have to click on anything; simply viewing the web
page will cause the adware to try to stuff itself into your system.
You may not like hyperagressive installation routines and downloads
triggered by subterfuge--- I sure don't--- but these behaviors are often
100% legal. In fact, adware usually comes with enormous, carefully
worded "click wrap" licenses that go into effect as soon as the software
downloads--- even if you trigger the download by accident or in error.
These licenses usually spell out very clearly that the adware vendor has
your permission to do whatever it is the adware package is designed for.
This often means that you're agreeing to allow the ads to display; and
agreeing to let the adware company monitor your actions. Exactly what
monitoring of which actions is usually spelled out in the rest of the
license terms and privacy statement.
Trouble is, many users aren't savvy enough to deflect these overly-
aggressive and sometimes even deceptive installation routines; through
uninformed choices or poor security practices, these users end up with
adware on their systems that they really didn't want and never
And almost no one wades through the full license agreements, which
sometimes seem intentionally designed to bury the most important terms
under an avalanche of legal verbiage. But it *is* legal verbiage: You
may dislike the terms of the license, but if you download the software,
you have agreed to those terms.
That kind of unwanted, invasive software spawned a whole new class of
defensive products designed to protect your PC. In fact, "Ad-Aware" (
http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2003/2003-11-10.htm#1 ) started out as
a simple tool to alert you to the presence of unwanted adware on your
system. Now, of course, it and its competitors such as Spybot Search and
Destroy ( http://www.safer-networking.org/ ) and Pest Patrol (
http://www.pestpatrol.com ) help guard against a whole range of threats.
But they all lump adware in with overtly malicious software; they treat
virtually all adware as inherently suspicious, to be checked out and
possibly removed, ASAP.
Of course, not all adware is bad. As long as you know what you're
getting, and as long as you consciously and overtly choose to download
and install the software, and are OK with all the terms of its user
agreement and with the tradeoffs involved in using the software, it's
fine--- it's a valid choice you can make.
To that end, the folks at PC Pitstop just opened a "Gator Information
Center" ( http://www.pcpitstop.com/gator/ ) to help users understand the
pros and cons using Gator/Claria software, which is perhaps the most
widely distributed adware in the world.
It's worth mentioning that Gator is not happy with PC Pitstop---
Gator/Claria brought suit against PC Pitstop in September. (You can get
details on the PitStop site.)
The PitStop information is definitely worth a look. For example, they've
waded through the 20 pages and 6,000 words aggregated into the "Gator
Advertising Information Network" software license to find some eye-
opening items you're probably not aware of. They've pulled out some of
the more interesting items into a little quiz you can take on
http://www.pcpitstop.com/gator/Quiz.asp . For example, the quiz
indicates that that the Gator license forbids you to use tools like Ad-
Aware, Spybot, or PestPatrol to remove Gator/Claria software!
(You can read the license yourself at
http://www.gainpublishing.com/help/app_privacy/app_ps_v51.html and on
related pages. The license also clearly states that you're agreeing to
let Gator/Claria collect certain data about you, including your first
name, country, city, and five digit ZIP code, what software is on your
personal computer, your software usage characteristics and preferences,
information on some of the Web pages you view, and the amount of time
spent at some Web sites; as well as other information....)
If you're using, or considering using, any Gator/Claria software (such
as eWallet, DateManager, WeatherScope, or PrecisionTime), you ought to
take a look at the PC Pitstop pages. In fact, although the PitStop pages
are specific to Gator/Claria, they're worth reading for the general
knowledge there as well.
Not all adware is bad. But you need to know the full scoop--- the
downsides as well as the positives--- before you can make an informed
decision, and the PC PitStop pages will help you do just that.