See you later, anti-Gators?
In an effort to improve its corporate reputation, adware company Gator has launched a legal offensive to divorce its name from the hated term "spyware"--and so far its strategy is paying off.
In response to a libel lawsuit, an antispyware company has settled with Gator and pulled Web pages critical of the company, its practices and its software. And other spyware foes are getting the message.
"There is this feeling out there that they won the lawsuit, and people are starting to get scared," said one employee of a spyware-removal company, who asked not to be named. "We haven't been sued, but we've heard that other companies are being sued for saying this and that, so we've changed our language" on the company Web site.
Gator often distributes its application by bundling it with popular free software like Kazaa and other peer-to-peer programs. When downloaded, Gator's application serves pop-up and pop-under ads to people while they're surfing the Web or when they visit specific sites. Ads can be keyed to sites so that a pitch for low mortgage rates, say, can appear when a surfer visits a rival financial company's site.
The distinction between such "adware," which can report back to its creator with information about the computer user's surfing habits, so as to allow for supposedly more effective ad serving, and "spyware," which similarly monitors surfing habits and serves up ads, is sometimes a hazy one, and lies at the heart of Gator's libel suit.
Gator maintains that its software differs from spyware in that people are clearly notified before they download it, and in that they do so in exchange for a service, like the peer-to-peer software.
Spyware, the company maintains, is surreptitiously installed and gives the unwitting computer user no benefit.
But critics of adware companies question how clearly such downloads are marked--PC users may suddenly be deluged with pop-ups and have no idea where they're coming from--and protest that companies like Gator are collecting information without sufficiently accounting for what they do with it.
The defendant in the Gator libel suit, PC Pitstop, offers software to cleanse computers of spyware and other undesirable code, and until signing a preliminary settlement with Gator on Sept. 30, vociferously targeted Gator's application.
In settling the suit, which alleged false advertising, unfair business practices, trade libel, defamation and tortious interference, PC Pitstop apparently removed several pages from its Web site that referred to Gator's application as spyware--along with many that went beyond that to urge action against Gator itself.
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