PC Pitstop is speaking out against Gator and similar products because we believe that most users do not benefit by having them installed. This is consistent with the basic tenets that drive both our business philosophy and the advice that we give to users.
Gator should be removed from everyone’s PC.
PC Pitstop wants every PC to run reliably and optimally. Our own experiences with GAIN and Gator applications show that they can reduce system reliability. Their background activity and resource usage can impair system performance. The ads they pop up can be distracting. Finally, the functionality offered by free Gator applications is usually available at little or no cost from other sources that have better license terms.
Users have the right to control their own PCs.
Any product or service that takes control of a PC away from the user without their explicit knowledge and permission is contrary to the user’s best interest. Users should be able to install a product such as Gator if they are aware the product is installing and are clearly informed of its license terms. Whether someone runs Gator or other browser add-ins is not a decision that should be dictated by other web sites. If you think that Gator is the only threat to a user’s control over their PC, consider this gem from one of Gator’s legal opponents :
“Terence Ross of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the news publishers’ attorney, even told me that he thinks Internet users who configure their browsers to disable graphics (a common tactic to boost the speed of Web surfing) are committing copyright infringement because they are interfering with Web publishers’ exclusive right to control how their pages are displayed.”
From there, it’s just a short step away to make it illegal to run ad blockers, popup stoppers, or just about any browser add-in! We believe that is an unacceptable outcome as well. EDIT: That link requires subscription now, but see a related article by the same author: Unexpected twists in Internet law.
Software must clearly and openly disclose its actions.
Gator has made efforts to disclose its terms through several methods, but our survey shows those efforts are not adequate. Most users are not aware they have GAIN on their system, and many that do know have not read the license at all. We believe the confusion is due to several issues:
- Gator’s license terms are unusually broad compared to historical software licenses, granting Gator the right to monitor the PC and even install new software.
- Drive-by-downloads and bundled software takes advantage of a user’s tendency to click “Yes” on a dialog; it’s too easy for users to accidentally install software.
- Ad disclaimers on GAIN windows are clear only if users know what to look for–and they don’t know what to look for since they aren’t aware they installed GAIN.
“Click-wrap” licenses must have reasonable limits.
Much user confusion about Gator products seems to be due to the incredibly broad rights that users grant to Gator by clicking a couple of buttons while they are installing software, or even just browsing the web. It is not reasonable for users to unknowingly give away so many rights with the click of a button. We believe that a license that steps outside the bounds of a typical software license and asks a user to give up significant rights requires more disclosure. The burden should be on Gator to prove that users knowingly accepted the license.
Privacy is more than “personally identifiable data”.
Most people would agree that a peeping tom is invading someone’s privacy, whether or not they know the name of the person they are watching. Is software that monitors PC activity and pops up unrequested information like an aggressive peeping tom “anonymously” watching you? Again, a user might choose to give up this type of “anonymous privacy” in return for something of value, but our survey seems clear that this isn’t happening in the case of Gator.
“Adware” should not be illegal.
PC Pitstop is not opposed to either advertising or ad-supported software; our own site gets most of its revenue from advertising and sponsorships, which allows us to keep our services free to the public. There are good examples of ad-supported software such as the Opera browser that collect very little data and put their advertising in a clearly identifiable area inside the application itself. Because GAIN ads are sometimes identified only in their title bar text, it may be difficult for users to make the connection between GAIN ads and an often-accidental installation of a GAIN application.
In the end, the courts will probably decide whether Gator needs to change its practices. There are still lawsuits pending against Gator at this point; legal questions about Gator’s behavior and business model have yet to be decided. We hope the issues are decided in a way that improves protections for computer users.