PC Pitstop Top 25 Spyware and Adware

PC Pitstop has long been a source of information about unwanted software and how it spreads. Now we’re using our test results database to give you weekly updates about which programs are the most prolific. The prevalence numbers indicate the percent of PCs tested at PC Pitstop where we detected that file running. Our detection works by file name, so some products may be listed multiple times if they consist of two or more files. To check for spyware, adware, unneeded programs, and many other common PC problems, try PC Pitstop Exterminate or our full system scan.

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Gator Information Center

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”.

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Direct Revenue: Greed Triumphs Over Decency

The recent lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General against Direct Revenue provides an incredible amount of information about the sleazy activities of spyware and adware companies. In the past, we’ve pointed out that these companies were making lots of money from their invasive installations. We saw a glimpse of how much money was at stake when Claria filed to go public in 2004. In that filing, they revealed that they made about $100 million in 2003. However, that high-profile bid to go public was at the height of Claria’s power and profit; they quietly aborted the attempt in the fall of 2004 and just recently announced that they are getting out.

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Gator and WhenU Survey Results

PC Pitstop has the unique ability to survey users to add qualitative information to our quantitative analyses. Since April 2004, we have been surveying Gator and When U users about their experiences with their software. The following survey question was asked to Gator users after their PC’s were tested but before their test results were displayed

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Gator’s Advertisers

Gator/Claria makes its money through advertising. In fact, in their SEC S1 filing (Note: 4 megabyte document!) they had revenues of over $100 million dollars! Many of those advertisers are not aware how users have been unwittingly drafted into Claria’s ad network via confusing tactics. The challenge for us is to get the message to these companies, and there is one group that can effectively deliver that message: customers and potential customers.

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Microsoft’s Image

About a year ago, I was helping a friend with some minor computer problems in his small business in Rio. He is a pretty smart guy, but his computer knowledge was lacking, and I wanted to help. As we sat down at the computer, we got the familiar XP error message that asked us whether we want to send the error details back to Microsoft. My neophyte friend hit “Do Not Send” immediately. When I asked why, he said “I don’t trust those bastards for anything and I would never send personal information over the internet to them.”

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Chasing Children

PC Pitstop has mentioned the problem with spyware and kids before, but last week’s CNet spyware conference showed it isn’t going to be easy getting quick and meaningful action on this issue. It’s too bad. While some adware makers like WhenU seemed to be genuinely interested in changing their ways, others like Claria seemed intentionally evasive and unwilling to change any of their practices.

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Search Scout: No Merit Badge

Search Scout is one of the features of the Gator Advertising Information Network (GAIN). Gator has a partnership with Overture Services to display keyword-based text ads. The GAIN background software monitors the web pages you visit and the information you enter into search forms. If GAIN determines that you are doing a web search, or you are visiting sites that are associated with particular keywords, Search Scout kicks into action and displays Overture advertising or other results that match the keywords.

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Open Letter to Thomas Cook and Oyster Partners

Today I read that Thomas Cook has begun an online ad campaign that includes advertising on Claria’s GAIN ad network. I wanted to make Oyster Partners and Thomas Cook aware that there may be negative aspects to associating their brands with Claria and its GAIN network. Although Claria claims that its users have opted into the GAIN network, our own research shows that most users do not even know the software is installed on their system. A survey of users commissioned by StaySafeOnline showed similar negative feelings about products such as Claria’s. Other researchers have found that Claria/GAIN uses
misleading installation and disclosure practices.

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Yahoo – On the Dark Side

There was a time that Darth Vader was one with the force, but alas, he went to the dark side. And there was a time that Yahoo was the brightest star in the Internet constellation. My browser favorites are chock full of Yahoo sites, including Yahoo Maps and Yahoo Yellow Pages. My home page is My Yahoo, and I save all of my contacts in the Yahoo address book so I can access them from both my PC and my cell phone. There may be better solutions out there, but in almost all cases Yahoo was the first.

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Yahoo and Claria

When Yahoo acquired Overture in September 2003, it may have bought itself a load of trouble.

Prior to the Yahoo acquisition, Overture had cut a deal with Gator (which has since changed its name to Claria Corporation) to display Overture pay-per-click advertising to users of the Gator Advertising Information Network (GAIN). As we’ve noted in earlier investigations, this deal took many Overture customers by surprise. When we contacted some Overture advertisers in September 2003, several were unaware that their ads were now being shown to Gator users and one indicated to us that they had discontinued their Overture advertising as a result.

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Our Gator Experiences

What is it like to be a Gator user? We get plenty of reports in our forums, but we decided to get first-hand information by installing GAIN software on our own systems. We also wanted to find out if there are any good things about GAIN ads–do they have the potential to help users find great deals on products and services? The results weren’t pretty. Rob’s system became very unstable almost immediately. Dave didn’t have system instability, but received many GAIN ads that were anything but targeted.

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How Did I Get Gator?

Our survey found that an astounding 74 percent of Gator users did not know that a Gator or GAIN application had been installed on their system, and an additional 15 percent had not read Gator’s license agreement. Compare those results to Gator’s assertion that users are “inviting” Gator onto their PC’s. We decided to take a look at several ways in which Gator gets “invited” onto a PC, and whether the process may be confusing users into making an uninformed choice.

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Claria Goes Public

Claria Corporation (formerly Gator Corporation) has filed an S-1 statement, the first step in the United States for an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. The S-1 is a very useful document because it requires the company to be very clear and honest about its business prospects. Potential investors use the S-1 to determine whether to buy stock, and to determine a fair price for that stock.

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Gator Alternatives

Are you using a Gator or GAIN-supported application and would like to keep its functionality but dump the popup ads, excessive memory use, and data collection? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve researched a collection of free or low-cost programs that are superior to Gator’s. For each Gator application below, you’ll see our picks for programs that offer similar functionality.

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Overture and Gator

Several companies that have contacted PC Pitstop are puzzled how they could be associated with Gator when they honestly don’t believe their company does business with Gator Corporation. Our first thought was that there was simply someone else in the organization responsible for advertising through the Gator Advertising Information Network (GAIN), or perhaps that a third-party ad agency they hired was responsible for placing Gator advertising. (For example, adware has caused concern for companies such as Toyota.) However, we have found another way that many companies may unwittingly be advertising on Gator through its partnership with Overture and the Search Scout feature.

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