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The Almighty Buck

Web Publishers Sue Gator 337

shofmann writes "The Washington Post is reporting that a number of publishers, including the Washington Post, is suing Gator Corp. over their obnoxious spyware, saying that Gator is "a parasite that free rides on the hard work and investment" of other people's web sites. The lawsuit alleges that Gator's spyware contributes to trademark infringement, misappropriation of the news, and represents unfair competition." The publishers seem to be distressed about Gator replacing website ads with its own. Several people submitted this related article about blocking internet advertising - nothing really new here for geeks, but a good URL to send to your less technically-inclined friends.
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Web Publishers Sue Gator

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:34AM (#3779386)
    To replace the Gator ads with my own! My plan can not fail! Muahahaha.
  • Tivo? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MikeOttawa ( 551441 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:36AM (#3779417)
    Now, would this be akin to people skipping ads with their TiVo? If I download software that removes ads for me, am I stealing from the publisher of that website?
    Do most companies pay based on "views" of ads, or "click-throughs"?
    • Re:Tivo? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bob McCown ( 8411 )
      No, its more like if the Tivo replaced commericals for Brand X with commercials for Brand Y.
    • Re:Tivo? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by st0rmshad0w ( 412661 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:59AM (#3779614)
      No, but I'd imagine it would be very similar to broadcasters digitally changing ads at sports venues, like baseball stadiums, during the telecast of the game.
    • Re:Tivo? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <m4encxb2sw@nosPam.snkmail.com> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:08PM (#3779670) Journal
      "Now, would this be akin to people skipping ads with their TiVo? If I download software that removes ads for me, am I stealing from the publisher of that website? "

      No. The gator software often installs itself without your permission if you are on win32 and use MSIE with lax enough activeX permissions. It is a trojan that masquerades as a utility that fills out web forms for you.

      In fact is puts its own ads exactly on top of the a web page's regular ads so it disguises Gator ad content as the web site's content. It also sends in the popups. I believe but I am not certain that it collects marketing information based on your surfing patterns.

  • Ad-aware (Score:5, Informative)

    by RML ( 135014 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:37AM (#3779425)
    Yet another reason to use Ad-aware [lavasoftusa.com].
  • by Diamon ( 13013 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:38AM (#3779429)
    That the article on stopping pop-up ads has a pop-under ad?
    • Re:Isn't it ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JordanH ( 75307 )
      • That the article on stopping pop-up ads has a pop-under ad?

      Not really. The people who are reading the article probably won't be blocking, so they're ideal targets.

    • Re:Isn't it ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tbmaddux ( 145207 )
      To be fair, the article does say (boldface emphasis added):
      " Nor are the new ads limited to sites purveying gambling and pornography, as they once were. Almost every big-name Web site now displays them, including Amazon.com, Yahoo, CNN.com, AOL.com, TIME.com, WSJ.com and NYTimes.com."
      • Is it a classic case of "put-your-name-beside-the-big-ones-so-that-you-loo k-big-too"?

        Come on, NYTimes.com isn't a "big-name" Web site by any measure.
    • That the article on stopping pop-up ads has a pop-under ad?
      Isn't that what Gator does? Have you checked if you have Gator? ;-)
  • by Vidmaster_Steve ( 455301 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:38AM (#3779430) Homepage
    I can put up with the lack of Alt tags and my apparent inablity to get plugins to work (flash, javascript, quicktime et al) by far overshadows the annoying pop ups and PLZ DOWNLOAD THIS GATOR THING K THX BYE! windows that deluge you when trolling through Geocities (or wherever, I just notice an abundance of them on Geocities). Man, it does feel nice. Liberating even. If we just got alt tags (because jerks like me like to put witty ephitets behind my images) in Opera, I'd say that it is my favoritest web browser.

    In short GATOR = BAD; OPERA = KEEN!
  • On constrution site barriers (so people can't get in to the site and hurt themselves), the sign "Post No Bills".

    This is almost a form of digital vandalism. Not to mention that spyware is rather like a virus, slowing down your speed with obnoxious popup ads.

    I hope the plaintiffs win big on this one.
  • Look, I absolutely detest Gator, but I have to defend them on this issue.

    What I choose to run in my browser is my own business, just like Microsoft's technology that modified web pages to insert links. Once a page leaves a server and enters my computer, my fair-use rights take over and I can do ANYTHING I want to that page, except rebroadcast it.

    Now, people are going to argue that people aren't making an informed choice. And maybe that's true, but it's not strictly Gator's fault. Gator does inform them -- in a slimy way -- but it does inform them.

    It's exactly the same as if I had a magazine delivered to my house, and hired someone to cut out all the ads and replace them with other ads. It's none of the magazine's business if I do that, and it's none of anyone else's business if I choose to use Gator.

    • by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:45AM (#3779497) Homepage Journal
      The thing is that there are people who are paying money to put those ads on a website. The difference here between the magazine or television and the web is that the guy who runs the site gets money when people click/lead or whatever the pricing plan may be. If you cut ads out of a magazine, the magazine doesn't care. They made their money because the advertiser paid for the ad to be in there, and it was in there.
      On the web the advertiser not only pays for ad placement, which in turn brings them direct profits (e.g: online casino), but the person with the website depends on those ads being shown so he can get paid through cj, or whatever system he uses.
      Gator most definitely sucks because not only is it evil spyware on peoples computers. But it takes money away from people who are trying to pay the hosting bill for their very cool web sites.
      I mean, even slasdot is getting paid for the ads on the site. And if those ads don't show up because gator replaced them, then gator is indirectly stealing revenue from slashdot. Instead of say google (with its ultra cool google rackmount box thing) paying slashdot, company X pays gator.
      Do you now see why suing gator is the way to go?
      • by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:52AM (#3779558)
        but the person with the website depends on those ads being shown so he can get paid through cj, or whatever system he uses.

        Well that kinda sucks for the website owner doesn't it? It's still my machine, and my choice if I want to download the adverts or not. I don't think Gator is a good program, and I certainly wouldn't install it even if I could, but I don't like the implication that the website owner has unlimited control over your computer.

        • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:10PM (#3779695) Homepage
          I agree with you in general. This issue has some additional wrinkles, however. The users are clearly not fully aware what Gator does or when it does it. Gator does not mark in any way that it changes content. By switching like this _without_ the user being aware of it, they can reasonable be said to misrepresenting the web site owners.

          Put it this way: if you had a program that changed banners, that you installed _knowing_ that's what it did, and it showed you ads for steamy porn on nytimes.com, there would be no problem. You knew after all that the banners came from your program, not from the New York Times. In this case, however, the intent is to do this behind peoples' backs. If it pushed goatse.cx advertisements onto nytimes site, a lot of people would be very angry at nytimes, thinking its they who pushed the stuff on them.

          It's not that it changes the 'surfing experience', it's that it does it with intent to deceive that's the problem.

          /Janne
      • So I'm a thief because I use Junkbuster?

        Are you closely related to Ted Turner and the rest of the Time-Warner-AOHell crew?
      • While what you are saying is correct, the fact that a user can view websites any way he wants to and do anything to them still stands. Overall I guess that paying for ads on websites is just a not-so-sound business model. I agree with the original poster that Gator is doing nothing illegal.

      • If you cut ads out of a magazine, the magazine doesn't care. They made their money because the advertiser paid for the ad to be in there, and it was in there.

        The example in the comment you were replying to was something on the line of : what if I hire a guy to come to my house and filter "Time" magazine for me, for example, cut out all Microsoft ads and replace them with Linux ads. I paid for the magazine, and it will not be redistributed from my house. Surely I have a right to do this, even if Microsoft paid money for the ads to be in there, and they weren't when I read the mag.

        On the web the advertiser not only pays for ad placement, which in turn brings them direct profits (e.g: online casino), but the person with the website depends on those ads being shown so he can get paid through cj, or whatever system he uses.

        I think everybody can see the point here, but what about *my* right to block ads ? (Or have it done for me) My point is that there is no law beeing broken here !

        Gator most definitely sucks because not only is it evil spyware on peoples computers. But it takes money away from people who are trying to pay the hosting bill for their very cool web sites.

        It may reduce income, but it surely doesn't *take any money away *.

        I mean, even slasdot is getting paid for the ads on the site. And if those ads don't show up because gator replaced them, then gator is indirectly stealing revenue from slashdot.

        Again, there is nothing beeing stolen, slashdot didn't *own it* in the first place, so it can't be stolen from it. If I want to block /. ads, I will simply do so (I am not doing it by the way). Now, if /. doesn't want to serve me the pages until I have downloaded the ads, they are of course free to do so, but again, that doesn't mean that I will display them on my screen.

      • If you cut ads out of a magazine, the magazine doesn't care. They made their money because the advertiser paid for the ad to be in there, and it was in there.
        They'd care very much if nobody got to see those ads. When Gator is providing the deception that someone *else* has paid to get advertizing on that web page, I think they have a case. Not because people aren't allowed to block but because Gator's ads appears to be the "real" ads of the page.
        • If a grocery store cut the ads out of a magazine and replaced them with their own (or rather, pasted their ads over the magazine's) before its put on the shelves, that'd be the same sort of deal. Even if they said "You agree by coming in to our store that you'll get our ads in magazines", the magazine folks would be pissy.

          While they could stop selling magazines to such stores, website operators can't determine if you have Gator installed before delivering you content.
      • Isn't this painfully obvious by now? This advertising model is all wrong! That's simply not the way that advertising works. The effectiveness of an ad is not measured by the number of people who immediately react upon it. The whole point of advertising is to create brand awareness. To measure the effectivenss of an online ad by its click-through rate is the same as measuring how many people turn on the next freeway exit to drink a after seeing some billboard.
      • So Tivo sucks because it allows you to skip past the commercials?

        Sometimes people should stop to think how consistent their arguments are.
    • by GutBomb ( 541585 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:46AM (#3779507) Homepage
      the problem is that most people don't really know what it is. for example i have never met a single person that actually installed gator knowingly. My wife for example installed audiogalaxy (i wasn't home , so i would have given her the pyware free one, of course) And i came home and saw gain popups. Then i went through the installer for audiogalaxy. there was 1 checkbox asking if you would like gator installed for you. and it was cheacked by default. my wife, not being a big geek simply just clicked next. Now, my wife knows a little bit about computers and stuff, so i would imaginfe that there are TONS of people out there who simply clicked "next". These people don't read the EULA that actually tells them what it is. If gator was a program you downloaded by itself, i could agree with you, but it is virtually forced upon other people. For the most part when you install a program and it asks you if you would like a specific component installed, they will say yes, just to be safe, like maybe that component is vital to the program.
    • except that advertising dollars is what makes your magazine subscription so cheap and if some third party cuts out the ads and replaces them with their own they are ripping off the publisher.

      If *you* cut out the ads and replace them (or not) with pr0n ads or whatever, that's your business. If you choose to skip ads on your TiVo, that's your business. But if TiVo or a third-party service decided to replace ads the broadcaster was putting out with their own advertising, TiVo would be ripping off the broadcaster.

      Fair use means *fair*, not screw the copyright holder or the user.

      • You had the same idea I had here [slashdot.org].

        However, as we discussed in a previous /. story when some TV executive called Tivo owners "thieves", it's really none of the networks' business what I do when they're playing ads. I can go make a cup of tea, take a leak, switch channels, or even watch the ads. If I recorded the show, I can fast forward or skip over the ads. If I choose, I can play something else suring the ads. And if someone wants to provide me with a valuable service in return for watching *their* ads during the network's commercial break, then I should be free to do make that choice.

        It's unfortunate for the TV networks, of course, because now they're going to have to find a new way of making money. However, making money is not a right, and I don't see any of their other rights being infringed here.
        • I think the analogy breaks down a bit when we're comparing apples (web/print) and mangoes (broadcast). But here goes...

          Say I pay $50 per month for cable, both ad-laden and ad-free channels, plus $10 a month for TiVo so I can record stuff when I'm not around, stay late at work, whatever.

          Now, I skip commercials like I skip print/banner ads. I just don't look at them and will do something else when commericals come on. I'll either (a) go potty, (b) get a snack, (c) thumb through National Geographic, or (d) channel surf while commercials are on. I don't do that 100% of the time, but most of the time. So does every damned body else since the debut of TV.

          Just because we don't work the way they want us to doesn't give them the right to force us to. Advertisers are paying for placement, that's it. Whether I want to watch it/read it/hear it is *my choice*, not theirs.

          By the same standard, they have the right to getting that placement in the broadcast stream (though I have the right NOT to record it) and in the print and web advertising venues they choose. I can choose not to view it, but no third party has the right to replace ads the advertisers pay for with their own advertising. That's theft. This is an important distinction that I hope a thoughtful court will agree with.

          • Depends. Is Gator a third party, or an agent of the second party? If Gator.com was serving up other people's content with the ads replaced, they would be a third party, and I'm pretty sure it would be illegal. But running as part of my browser, presenting content to me in the way I choose seems legitimate to me (although IANAL).
            • Good point. It's up to a court to decide, of course, but I'd say that since Gator is spyware it fails the user agent test.
              • Right, and that's why I keep wibbling on about informed consent. An ideal court ruling would be that if Gator had obtained, or made an effort to obtain, the informed consent of its users, then what it does would be legal. However, since they clearly *don't*, they should lock them up and throw away the key.
                • We're in agreement. :)

                  This is one of those rare pleasures, where I get to have an intelligent, informed discussion with another person on /. Good show.

                  Y'know, as your earlier patent-pending post suggests an "informed" Gator could be a sweet idea. I really like the idea of having an advertising agent that will replace regular advertising with stuff I'm interested in (yes, I want targeted advertising rather than the regular drivel). But I also want a way for content providers at sites that I visit (and TV shows that I watch) to get paid. I wonder how these can be reconciled.

                  I find most /. banners advertise stuff I either (a) use, or (b) am interested in. There are those (.Net stuff, Micro$oft's 1' of separation) that I'd rather not see at all and instead would like to see an ad for a new ThinkGeek product or nicotine IV drip or something.

    • Blockquoth the poster:
      It's exactly the same as if I had a magazine delivered to my house, and hired someone to cut out all the ads and replace them with other ads.

      Um ... not exactly. A more accurate analogy (at least as far as analogies go anyway) would be if on its way through the postal system, your local postal worker cut out all the ads from the magazines and placed ads which directly benefitted him only, and in such a way that you as the magazine subscriber didn't notice.

      Gator doesn't make this practice clear to users of their software other than in a badly worded sub-section of the installer which is easily missed.

      Why on earth would you as an end-user actively want the adverts of a website replaced with adverts from Gator?

      A user knowingly blocking ads from a site is one thing, but a piece of software trying to go behind both the user and website's back and profit off of both isn't the same.
    • On the other hand... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:56AM (#3779583)
      Ads on web sites are part of a commercial for-profit venture. Gator's replacing those ads are an attempt to directly interfere with the revenue stream of the site, which I believe is illegal.

      Also, there may be some copyright issues. Every page on the Washington Post is copyrighted by them, and the ads are copyrighted by the various advertisers. It is illegal for someone to take a copyrighted work, modify it and resell it. That is essentially what Gator is doing. They are, in essence, modifying a copyrighted page for the express purpose of reselling the ad space.

      Personally, I hope they body-slam Gator, and it sends a chill through the spyware community. More likely, though, spyware companies will feel emboldened by whatever decsion comes down, feeling that the court is establishing rules for their legitimate operation.
      • Illegality (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rupert ( 28001 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:05PM (#3779644) Homepage Journal
        • It is legal for you to tape Farscape so you can watch it later.
        • It is legal for you to pay me to come to your house, pop the tape in the VCR, and record Farscape for you.
        • It is illegal for you to pay me to tape Farscape at my house, and mail you the tape.

        Since this is happening at the client end, I think this is closest to the second option above, which would make it legal.
        • Re:Illegality (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CapnGib ( 31274 )
          It is also legal for you to pay me to come to your house, pop the tape in the VCR, and record Farscape for you, deleting the ads or better yet replacing all the Cingular commercials with Verizon ones.

          But is it legal for Verizon to pay me to do this behind your back?
          • That's about the best point I've seen in this thread yet. I don't know. I don't know what law they'd be breaking. If I knew (i.e. informed consent, which, in general, Gator doesn't have) that this was happening, then it should be legal. Otherwise, who knows?
    • "It's exactly the same as if I had a magazine delivered to my house, and hired someone to cut out all the ads and replace them with other ads. It's none of the magazine's business if I do that, and it's none of anyone else's business if I choose to use Gator."

      Sure, but Gator tries to install itself in the background through stealthy scripts on MSIE. If someone hid in your home and replaced all the ads on your magazine subscriptions when you did not invite them in, would you appreciate it?

    • your analogy doesn't work.

      it's more like you found somebody who offered to do free gardening for you, but would only do it if you let his buddy "improve your magazine-reading experience." then his buddy replaces ads in your magazines with new ads, except he does it in such a way that it's hard to detect unless you're a magazine expert.

      when you ask about getting rid of the magazine-improving friend, the gardener tells you that you can't get rid of him directly, but you can trust that he'll leave on his own when you fire the gardener.

    • Right to Integrity (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jerf ( 17166 )
      Once a page leaves a server and enters my computer, my fair-use rights take over and I can do ANYTHING I want to that page, except rebroadcast it.

      First, do you choose what ads to add in? No?

      You aren't doing a thing to the page. It's being done by a third party, specifically Gator, without consent of the originator. Personally, I call that censorship [jerf.org], though YMMV.

      Proof: If it were you doing that to the page, where are your payments for the ad space? What, Gator gets them? Clearly, they are the ones modifying the page, if they are selling this ad space to others.

      Second, fair use applies only under very specific and limited circumstances [cetus.org]... it's not the carte blanche you seem to think it is. In this case, of the four factors to be considered in whether or not something is fair use, this completely fails three of them; Gator's use is solely commercial (1), they use the entire copyrighted work (3), and the market for the work (as defined in copyright terms which tends to talk about money) is eliminated entirely for that viewing (4). Fair use is not a defense in this case.

      It's none of the magazine's business if I do that, and it's none of anyone else's business if I choose to use Gator.

      It is the magazine's business. They may not want to be a party to this third-party transaction. (You can make a case for choosing on your own not to view ads, but when you add a third-party in like Gator the situation changes dramatically, especially since Gator is directly profiting.)

      Frankly, it doesn't matter if Gator informs them. What they're doing is highly unethical, and almost certainly illegal.

      By the way, you need to be exceptionally careful about this. If you let Gator do this, then there's really nothing stopping them from modifying the contents of the page, since from a copyright point of view, that's exactly what they're doing. If they can modify for the purpose of commerical profit, then they can do it for any purpose, since that's the highest purpose in our broken copyright laws. Of course, if Gator can do it, anyone can.

      Letting Gator doing this, and defending them is handing everybody in the world free reign to modify anything they can technically get access to, just because they can. ("Might makes right?") There's just no difference. I for one do not want to hand this power to anybody. That it will be abused pretty much goes without saying. We must defend the right to integrity.

      It should be obvious that on this point, the right to integrity is more importent to us little guys then the Washington Post, which has the resources to defend itself.

      I've been around this debate more then a few times; please, before replying (not Reality Master 101 personally, everybody), at least read the fair use link [cetus.org] and educate yourself about the current state of the law. You're free to think it's not perfect, and should be some other way (as I do), but please, for the love of Gnu, no lengthy, fact-bereft lectures on personal misconceptions of copyright law...
      • You aren't doing a thing to the page. It's being done by a third party, specifically Gator, without consent of the originator.

        That's the problem -- it IS being done with the consent of the originator. It might not be informed consent to the level that we all would like, but that's a completely different issue.

        Proof: If it were you doing that to the page, where are your payments for the ad space?

        The payment is in the form of the services Gator provides (it DOES have some useful functions, by the way). But even if Gator didn't provide one useful thing, it's STILL none of anyone's business if I decide to use them.

        Frankly, it doesn't matter if Gator informs them.

        It matters a great deal. What I don't think you're seeing is that Gator is supplying work-for-hire. They are supplying a service to the person using Gator, which includes replacing the ads.

        You seem to think it's illegal for me to replace ads in something that I download. I seriously doubt that you can make that case. And yes, it doesn't matter whether I personally do it or an agent for me does it. As long as it's for my personal use, it's exactly the same thing.

        If you let Gator do this, then there's really nothing stopping them from modifying the contents of the page, since from a copyright point of view, that's exactly what they're doing.

        Which is perfectly, legally, fine -- as long as they are not taking the content and rebroadcasting it. Once it is in my computer, my fair use rights say I can do whatever I want with it for my own personal use. If I want to hire Gator to modify the pages, then that is perfectly within my rights. If I want to download your web site and then hire someone to replace all the content with "Jerf beats his wife", that is fine, too -- as long as it's for my own personal use. Note that this "someone" is making a profit from the activity.

        It should be obvious that on this point, the right to integrity is more importent to us little guys then the Washington Post, which has the resources to defend itself.

        I think you need to make a distinction between morality and legality. I fully believe it is immoral to block ads on a web site that I frequent. However, I fully defend everyone's legal fair-use rights to do whatever they want (using whatever tool they want) with media (web pages, magazines, newspapers, video, whatever) for their own personal use.

        P.S. Your link doesn't work.

    • "What I choose to run in my browser is my own business" [emphasis mine]

      The operative word here is choose. The question really isn't exactly what it does (we can install any software we want to filter/replace ads), the question is, does it install itself and infest your system without your knowledge. The answer is yes. It is spyware/adware and I have no sympathy for it, even if it walks my dog and makes me breakfast.
    • by WNight ( 23683 )
      I think the whole point of the lawsuit is that Gator barely informs the user and does it in a way as to intentional avoid doing so when possible.

      If you hire someone to snip ads from a magazine, or automatically close pop-up windows, that's essentially as if you are doing it and as long as it's legal for you to do it, you can hire someone to do it.

      Gator on the other hand is very unclear on what it does and doesn't really give people a chance to agree. It's like you going to the store to buy a magazine and when you get it home you find out that the magazine has been edited, without your consent or that of the publisher, to change the ads, rewrite the editorial content, etc.

      And then the store claims that you agreed to this because when you bought a cup of coffee there was a contract printed on the bottom of the cups...

      If Gator really was something people wanted to install, I don't think the suit would go anywhere. But Gator basically does all this without the consent of anyone.
  • Dangerous Thinking (Score:2, Interesting)

    by akula1 ( 463239 )
    This strikes me as a dangerous way to think. It implies a contract of sort between you and a web site operator. They supply content and you (as far as they're concerned) have to look at their ads.
    • This is exactly the point that the cable broadcasters were making with TiVo users skipping ads - that there is an implied contract between the person supplying the content and the viewer to watch the ads to get the content.

      This may have a bigger impact than people realize.

      • Your analogy is flawed. This has nothing to do with any implied contract between the publisher of the content and the viewer of that content. In fact, it has nothing to do with the viewer at all.

        The publisher of the content is in a contract with the supplier of the ads, probably something that sounds like "ad-supplier-X will give $Y to Publisher_Z per each hundred ads displayed on their site." When something (in this case, Gator) interferes with that contract, a lawsuit is most appropriate.

      • That was Ted Turner's claim; of course, he should be careful about stating that since such a contract probably would include something about "quality of programming" that stations may notlive up to... :-)
    • They supply content and you (as far as they're concerned) have to look at their ads.

      In a word, no. You have the emphasis wrong for one thing. It is more like this:

      They supply content and you (as far as they're concerned) are served their ads.

      This isn't prohibiting ad-blocking tools. This is prohibiting tools that replace their ads with other ads.

  • by mixbsd ( 574131 )
    ... to make me want to go back to using Lynx again.
  • by Rupert ( 28001 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:40AM (#3779459) Homepage Journal
    First off, Gator is scumware of the first water. I don't like what they do at all.

    However, the browser is an agent of the person using it, and (provided there was actually informed consent to its installation) Gator is modifying the behaviour of the browser to something the user prefers.

    Imagine a "free" Tivo, that instead of skipping ads, played it's own ads during the commercial breaks in programs. It could download them at night, and advertisers would pay for the service...

    Excuse me, I've got to run to the patent office.
    • If users were informed about what GAIN does and able to remove it easily, I would not have a problem with it. However, that is often not the case.

      1. Including something in a EULA does not mean the user is informed. I think this is less of a problem in recent versions of the Audiogalaxy installer, which have an extra screen explaining exactly what GAIN is and that the user can decide not to install Audiogalaxy. I haven't looked at the Gator installer recently. However, just having a screen in the installer is not sufficient, even if it explains exactly what GAIN is, because some users don't read installer screens.

      2. Do the pop-up ads include a link explaining where the ads came from and how to turn them off? I haven't tried GAIN lately, but I suspect not, because GAIN would have about two users if they did that, and then people wouldn't feel a need to sue Gator.

      3. GAIN is tied to Gator, which was a password manager before it became spyware. Many users have their passwords stuck in Gator. Gator does not make it easy to recover [squarefree.com] forgotten passwords and probably doesn't inform users that any modern [mozilla.org] browser [microsoft.com] includes a free password manager.

      4. Users don't choose what ads pop up; paying advertisers do. This makes it unlikely that GAIN is acting on behalf of the user as an extension of the user agent (browser).
  • by Sean Clifford ( 322444 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:40AM (#3779461) Journal
    It's good someone's finally bringing legal challenges to Gator; though I think Micro$oft's "smart tags" should be pursued the same way. Most web site operators get bent out of shape for framing their sites, and mostly I think - bah they're overreacting. But Gator and Smart Tags cut directly into their ad revenue and modify publisher's content without consent. I think Gator (and Smart Tags) should be crushed underfoot.
    • But Gator and Smart Tags cut directly into their ad revenue and modify publisher's content without consent

      So does those ad blockers and the "apply my own stylesheet" option on IE and Opera (and probably Moz, I never looked) and 101 other applications.

      The sooner people realise that once the content and graphics have left their servers, they have little control on how it gets published, the better.

      They do not own the publishing medium and that medium can decide whether or not to honour their request. If I want my browser showing smart-tags, or different adverts or no pictures or my own stylesheet - there isn't much they can do about it.

  • Seriously what's the problem? its not like Gator is installed automatically... the user has to install it themselves....

    (yes I know its included in some softwar) but the user installs that software out of free will... so wtf is the problem?
  • I keep getting emails that look like they are from friends but they are instead spoofed by a company called netrax.com. The emails have no body but they have attachments that are executable. I assume Netrax is similar to Gator. I have no idea who these people are but here is their Whois entry below. Given that they are from the Advertising Capital of the US (Madision Avenue) I assume their helpful software is simply designed to flood me with spam.

    Registrant:
    NETRAX (NETRAX4-DOM)
    509 Madison Avenue Suite 1610
    New York, NY 10022
    US

    Domain Name: NETRAX.COM

    Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
    Harris, Emily (INEVXBUJII) eharris@NEWSSUN.MED.MIAMI.EDU
    MCY Music World, Inc.
    509 Madison Avenue
    Suite 1610
    New York, NY 10022
    US
    212-944-6664

    Record expires on 08-Sep-2002.
    Record created on 08-Sep-1999.
    Database last updated on 27-Jun-2002 11:42:38 EDT.

    Domain servers in listed order:

    NS.MCY.COM 204.60.119.25
    NS2.SNET.NET 204.60.0.3
  • by scotpurl ( 28825 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:47AM (#3779515)
    Anyone else worried that the new Fritz chip will require that I sit through advertisements before I'm allowed to see content?

    Don't think it's possible? Howzabout DVD players, where you have to sit through the various FBI warnings and movie previews at the start of the disk before the movie starts.
  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:51AM (#3779546)
    The Washington Post article didn't say anything about replacing ads and the slashdot link wasn't loading for me. From the sounds of it all gator is doing is when you do visit a specific site it launches a popup window displaying its own advertising. While this is highly unethical I'm not sure it would be illegal, I don't see any website that you visit having legal domain over your web browser and gator isn't altering the page itself, all gator is doing is poping up its own window or own link which you "agreed" to view when you clicked on the EULA. If gator actually closed the websites pop-up windows completely than they might have a case (though it could fall again to the EULA as having said the user wanted those windows to close). While I don't like seeing gator doing things like this I would worry about the implications of a victory on the grounds of defacing the sight or something like that. In a strictly legal sense Mozilla might actually be in danger as it allows you to stop the pop-up windows from opening at all (in many ways closer to altering the display of the website than adding more pop-ups).
    • ...all gator is doing is poping up its own window or own link which you "agreed" to view when you clicked on the EULA...

      I've had the displeasure of inadvertantly having this trash installed on my computer. Now I'm pretty computer savvy (Computer Engineer) but I was probably either multi-tasking at the time and accidently hit something, or the EULA/accept may have been set up in an especially vile manner (automatic, opt-out, misleading buttons, I can't recall).

      It will be interesting to see if this case aims at the validity of the Gator EULA and if any ruling might extend to EULA's in general. Since the parties filing suit are all publishers and not software companies, they might be more likely to attack the general premise and validity of an EULA that is misleading or unlikely to be read before acceptance. This could have interesting repercussions in software licensing.

      As an aside, I found this quote from the article pretty funny:

      "Gator ranked as the 15th most heavily trafficked Web property in April, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, with nearly 16 million people being exposed to its Web sites or software."

      I wonder how much traffic is generated by those trying to figure out what the hell happened and remove the offending software (the key word is "exposed" - I bet the installation process and the redirected ads probably also count as "hits").
    • "From the sounds of it all gator is doing is when you do visit a specific site it launches a popup window displaying its own advertising. While this is highly unethical I'm not sure it would be illegal, I don't see any website that you visit having legal domain over your web browser and gator isn't altering the page itself, all gator is doing is poping up its own window or own link which you "agreed" to view when you clicked on the EULA."

      No, gator 'replaces' the advertising on the pages you view by hovering banners of the exact same dimensions on top of the original banners, making you think they are part of the original page.

  • Revenge (Score:4, Informative)

    by rodbegbie ( 4449 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:00PM (#3779624) Homepage
    So, here's what you do.

    Install ZoneAlarm (free version works fine) then install Gator. When Gator tries to connect to the internet, don't let it.

    Now you can enjoy Gator's software, without them making any money from advertising. Kind of like what they're doing to the websites!

    (NB: This assumes you actually *want* the Gator software to store all your passwords & credit card numbers on your hard drive)

    rOD.
  • spyware woes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Patrick13 ( 223909 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:01PM (#3779627) Homepage Journal
    One of my clients brought me her laptop because "it was running slowly" - (piii 500, 128 MB ram, win98se). I booted it and it was really dragging. So i installed lavasoft's ad aware [lavasoft.nu] program, and scanned her HD and she had 360+ spyware programs & elements installed in her system!. What I hate most about the spyware programs is that they eat resources, and mask the process from the operating system. if you use the task manager, most of the procs aren't even listed, but for instance, in her laptop, on boot 85% of the system resources were being used. As soon as she launched her web browser, or any other program, she was using 100%.

    Also, when doing research, some of the lower quality sites have it set up so that gator autoinstalls when you hit the page, it doesn't even ask for a confirmation. I suppose the site gets $.05 or whatever from the gator corp per install, but what a lousy way to run a business.
    • A few weeks ago someone I know gave me a call. They wanted me to come take a look at their (almost brand new) computer, complaining that it was "really slow" and that it "locked up".

      I paid them a visit. Sure enough, their 1.6GHz, 512MB computer was incredibly slow. Menus often didn't pop up until 15 or 20 seconds after they were clicked, explorer windows "froze" (didn't respond to keyboard or mouse input, but did repaint themselves), and the computer wouldn't shut down properly (forcing a cold power-off, often resulting in filesystem corruption).

      I looked in the registry and discovered that there were about 20 programs being started automatically when Windows booted. I backed up that registry location, then deleted everything there and rebooted. The problem was gone!

      I added the programs back in groups to determine which one was the culprit. Any guesses what it was? That's right! A spyware program! My hunch is that this family's teenage son unwittingly installed it along with one of his many P2P filesharing programs.

      This family told me that they had purchased their new computer because the old one was having lots of problems. The new computer was supposed to be fast, easy to use, and low maintenance. A spyware program almost ruined their $1500 investment.

      --Bruce

      • This family told me that they had purchased their new computer because the old one was having lots of problems. The new computer was supposed to be fast, easy to use, and low maintenance. A spyware program almost ruined their $1500 investment.

        ironically, if they had just formatted and reinstalled the OS, the other computer probably would run just fine. it always amazes me how often people don't understand the difference btwn hardware and software.

        i have probably convinced @20 not buy a new computer until they have it looked over by a someone that knows how to reinstall the OS, and clean out viruses etc. 9 times out of 10 they have had SirCam, Klez or some other stupid virus in the system.
    • > she had 360+ spyware programs & elements installed in her system!

      Perhaps, but I just ran Adaware for the first time for grins, and it found 9 spyware "elements" on my system, 8 of which were cookies...

      I hardly find cookies to be detrimental to my system or productivity.
    • Why not just fix the problem with Debian [debian.org]? You know M$ will build paths around Lavasoft and others.
  • couldnt you just add their IP to your hosts file and point it to 120.0.0.1?

    If anyone knows please respond...
    • Of course!!!!

      My hosts file has 220 such items in it. It is wonderful to see a webpage pop up with lots of images not drawn!!!!

      Unfortunately, Mozilla feels obligated to tell me each time it fails. I think I need to add a webserver to my machine, running on localhost, and have it serve up some type of blocker indicator gif, html, or jpeg each time it gets a request.
  • Not good... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by athakur999 ( 44340 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:08PM (#3779671) Journal
    It sounds like the ads are popups that appear when you visit certain pages. They don't actually modify the page you visited.

    Now, I'm no fan of Gator, but I think if they lose this case it will be bad for all of us.

    It's not a huge leap from going from "software that adds popups to a certain page without actually modifying the page is illegal" to "software that modifies the page is illegal", meaning any proxy software that blocks ads, for example, is suddenly outlawed... So would any software that doesn't run the JavaScript (i.e. Mozilla with popups disabled), etc. etc.

    • Next? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by twitter ( 104583 )
      So would any software that doesn't run the JavaScript (i.e. Mozilla with popups disabled), etc. etc.

      How about browsers that don't have active X, flash, and other trash? Will they outlaw my lynx? The step is larger than you think, but no less likely. I can hear the microturds now, "you must display copyright material exactly as intended or you are stealing." DRM becomes more oppresive all the time.

  • by antis0c ( 133550 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:15PM (#3779723)
    I'm looking at this as these companies are representing individuals, even though they obviously aren't, and no money would be given to individuals, but at least Gator wouldn't exist or wouldn't be so annoying.

    And no, I didn't install Gator by choice, it got piggyback installed on an application I need for a one time use. I attempted to uninstall it, and for a while I thought I did. Then I noticed I was getting pop-up ads on Slashdot one day. I emailed CmdrTaco and Hemos, the assured me Slashdot wasn't doing popup ads, but this was around the time new subscriptions were being implemented so I wasn't sure, anyhow I investigated my system and found that Gator upon uninstall actually installed a minimal installation in C:\WINNT\System\G, with one exec, G.EXE. When it ran, it had no visible task bar icon, but it would display popups whenever you went to a page. Since almost 100% of the other pages I go to have popups I never noticed, until Slashdot started having them. I do believe that was the intended result, to fool the user that Gator was uninstalled but continue to run as if it were popups from web pages.

    So I'm happy, go get 'em guys.
  • A thought (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jaaron ( 551839 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:16PM (#3779727) Homepage
    Okay,I'm getting confused here. I think one the one hand, you should be able to control the media once you've "purchased" it so to say. Meaning that once signal (if it's TV) or web page gets to my tv/computer, then I can mess with it all I want. Right? But what about the advertiser? I mean, the advertiser paid the station/site to broadcast my ad. Now there's no guarentee everyone won't just switch the channel, but if the signal gets messed with between the broadcaster and the viewer, then I'm screwed. What did I pay for? I guess the issue is at what point does the signal become "mine" as a viewer (if it ever really does)? I'm not sure if I'm being clear here, but it's a serious question. On the one hand I want to be able to control the media once it's in my home. On the other hand, if I'm an advertiser then I should have some assurance that my money is really buying me what I paid for (I would hope at least).

    And in the case of Gator then there's the added issue that they're not only blocking ads, but replacing them. I don't like all the implications and I don't think the issue is very clear cut. There are serious pros and cons on both sides of the fence here.
  • Outright theft. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peterdaly ( 123554 ) <petedaly@NoSpaM.ix.netcom.com> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:17PM (#3779741)
    I don't know whether "gator" specifically does this or not, but I know programs like it do. Amazon.com affiliate sites for quite some time have been complaining about hijack-ware. When someone clicks on a link to amazon from an amazon affiliate site, the link is changed to include the spyware companies amazon id instead of the site linked from.

    The Amazon affiliate therfore looses any commision made on the sale. This is 100% unknown the the user of the software. It would be one thing if the user knowingly installed it, but 99% of the time or more they don't even know it is there. Web site ads are no different. It's one thing if the user knowingly installs it. They have that right. If it is installed without their knowledge, it is outright theft from the website that is being visited.

    I found this crap installed the other day. I had no idea anything was wrong until I went to Verizon to pay my phone bill. A popup ad came up (Verizon's online bill payment sites doesn't work with mozilla.) I figured, damnit, seems everyone has this crap now...but it was an ad for cingular wireless, a Verzion competitor. I was quite pissed to say the least, and I can't for the life of me get rid of the damn thing. (Yes, I know I need to download adaware or something like that.)

    Think about if you were buying merchandise in a store. When you approach the cash register a salesperson from another company completes your sale, and keeps the money. All without the knowledge of the store you are giving your business to, or even you for that matter. Never mind that would be almost impossible to have happen...on the internet it isn't. This is not only wrong, but outright theft of goods and services and should not be legal if it is.

    -Pete
  • the law (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jacobm ( 68967 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:17PM (#3779744) Homepage
    The article is actually pretty muddled about why the companies are suing Gator: is it because Gator infringes on their copyrights by altering web pages? Because it pops up advertisements? Because it misleads people into thinking the advertisements come from the web page they're visiting rather than a third-party application?

    The argument about Gator being misleading I buy. I don't use gator, nor have I ever, but if it's true that they're using deceptive practices to get themselves installed on people's computers and then silently altering other web pages, that's bad. But if that's not the case, well, the law should uphold my right to use the data web servers provide me in whatever way I see fit. I have no contract with anyone that says that if I download a file from their site I will render it in any particular way. As long as I'm aware that Gator is running, arguments that it's violating somebody's copyright are silly. I know it's there, and I can use my data how I want, thank you very much.

  • I've got an idea. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rawg ( 23000 )
    How about a software that removes the ad, but in the background registers a click through. That way we don't have to see them and the web site gets paid.

    Someone can add this to Mozilla with ease since it is open source.
  • I don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mr_Silver ( 213637 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:20PM (#3779763)
    Gator just fires up some adverts on a users PC based on certain pages they go to. That's not interferring with a websites content at all in the slightest.

    Now, if Gator took the HTML from the website, parsed out the adverts and replaced it with their own then i can understand that the companies might be a bit pissed because Gator would be passing its own ads off as theirs ...

    .. but by the wording of the article Gator isn't. It just fires the adverts up and people assume it came from that page.

    Assumption is the mother of all fuckups.

  • I'm waiting for the day when it's illegal for me to use a browser that doesn't render the page the way the company intended it to be rendered.

    I'm waiting for the day when I can't use a DVD because it's not the way the director intended the movie to be viewed

    I'm waiting for the day when the graphic equalizer on my stereo is deemed illegal because it's modifying the music outside of what the producer intended.

    I agree that Gator should be destroyed, but I don't like the precidents we're making by taking these steps.

    • With the sizes of company websites these days (do they forget most people still use modems?) they could probably just replace everything with imagemap'd JPEGs and 1) have pages render 'perfectly' and 2) perhaps even save bandwidth.

      That would/will sulck.
  • Must defend Gator (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:33PM (#3779872) Homepage Journal

    "First they came for Gator and Microsoft SmartTags. But I didn't use that crap, so I didn't speak up. Then they came for Junkbuster and Sleezeball and my "use own fonts" menu option..."

    This software doesn't modify anyone's web site. It it something that runs on a user's computer and modifies that user's perception of a web site, with that user's consent. That isn't copyright or trademark or any other kind of infringement.

    Some people say they didn't know what Gator does, or didn't even know they had installed it, so my point about consent is wrong. Well, that's your problem. You are responsible for your computer, dammit!! If mysterious software is getting onto your computer without your knowledge, then you have a hell of a security problem. Your machine is probably one of those listed in my httpd logs as requesting default.ida and cmd.exe, and you're probably also one of those people who keeps sending me documents to get my advice, while shamelessly gushing that you love me. Quit spreading your fucking viruses (and no, scanners aren't the answer) and lock your box down and take some responsibility, and then stuff like Gator and IE and Outlook will be taken care of incidentally as a natural consequence.

    • You are responsible for your computer, dammit!!

      Preach on brother! It all falls back on individual accountability. If you don't read the owners manual for the new lawnmower you just bought, fire it up and the blade flies through the wall of your house; guess what? It's your fault plain and simple. If you use your computer without knowing how and get screwed by Gator or get H4X0RED, then guess what, it's your fault.

      Now the only problem with this is that a computer is a bit more complex than a lawnmower. Common sense doesn't apply and the learning curve is steeper. So what do we do? Do we pass laws that "protect" consumers who can't or won't get it? How does that affect those of us who do and don't need protection?

  • by Fizzlewhiff ( 256410 ) <jeffshannon@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:37PM (#3779905) Homepage
    It is your browser and your computer but those ads like them or not are supporting the sites you visit. Blocking them is one thing (I skip magazine ads and TV commercials and fully believe I have the rights to block web ads) but what Gator is doing is not very nice. Right now I am looking at and ad for the new Altus 130 from Penguin Computing. Gator would replace that with one of its avertisers. If enough slashdot readers used Gator (fat chance) over time Penguin and other advertisers would drop Slashdot and we'd either all be forced to subscribe or the site would shut down.

    I think that web advertising needs to change. Banner ads and popups are easy to block and replace thus pissing off the advertisers and the site owners. Not many users care if they are replaced and many users want them blocked. Overall, banner ads are annoying (except for Think Geek ads which I often click through to). I would much rather see, in plain text and avertisements like this:

    The following article is brought to you by Oracle Corporation. [oracle.com] Oracle 9i Release 2 makes Linux Unbreakable. For more information please visit us at www.oracle.com."

    A simple ad a couple of lines long with a couple links, no flash, no images, no sound. Have it before the article or after the article on the page. There'd be no reason to block them and to Gator they would be hard to distinguish from the actual article.

  • If I want to run software on my PC that blocks or replaces advertisments (weather that is Gator or Mozilla's BannerBlind or JunkBuster) I want to have the right to do that. If it is ruled that ad-interfering software is liable for lost revenue, that would put good software our of business, as well as Gator.
  • Good riddance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OpIv37 ( 585971 )
    Personally, I am happy that someone finally called Gator on their bullshit. Gator installed itself on my computer (possibly my fault for clicking "Next" without reading what was checked). When I tried to uninstall it, it automatically installed OfferCompanion without giving me an option to refuse. When I uninstalled OfferCompanion, it installed this digital wallet program. This went on for an hour-
    Even if Gator was originally installed due to my own personal error, there was no way for me to know what I would have to go through to get rid of it.

    Gator is a huge invasion of privacy- it attempts to hijack users' computers. The company does not provide adequate information about how its' programs work. I'll be happy when the company executives are mopping floors at the ChiChis where they used to eat lunch.

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