“Behavioral Marketing” Is Still “Spyware”

Wired: The spyware wars are over – and spyware has won.
Back in 2002, Gator was one of the most reviled companies on the Net. Maker of a free app called eWallet, the firm was under fire for distributing what critics called spyware, code that covertly monitors a user’s Web-surfing habits and uploads the data to a remote server. People who downloaded Gator eWallet soon found their screens inundated with pop-up ads ostensibly of interest to them because of Web sites they had visited. Removing eWallet didn’t stop the torrent of pop-ups.
In a June 2002 legal brief filed with the lawsuit, attorneys for The Washington Post referred to Gator as a “parasite.” ZDNet called it a “scourge.”
Today Gator, now called Claria, is a rising star. The lawsuits have been settled – with negligible impact on the company’s business – and Claria serves ads for names like JPMorgan Chase, Sony, and Yahoo! The Wall Street Journal praises the company for “making strides in revamping itself.”
Apart from plush new offices at the northern edge of Silicon Valley, it’s remarkable how little the latter-day Claria differs from the old Gator. It’s true that the company has toned down its most aggressive tactics. Journalists, watchdogs, and regulators seem mollified. For the most part, though, the company is in the same business as before, courting the same customers and selling a product that does the same thing in the same ways.
CEO Scott VanDeVelde doesn’t deny this. “I don’t feel like there’s a need to wipe the slate clean,” he says. “Our technologies are dead center of where the market is going.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.