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Kicking the Gator Software Habit

By Cory Kleinschmidt, 5/12/2002

In the beginning, there was a password reminder called Gator. It lifted the beleaguered web
surfer from the heavy burden of remembering passwords, and it was good. Then, the Serpent
tempted the Gator with visions of riches and targeted advertising, and thus, Gator was expelled
from the garden of public trust.


Yes, in the beginning, Gator was good. But Gator's shady antics have convinced me that trusting
a free application to remember passwords for me is no longer worth it. My distrust started
when Gator introduced OfferCompanion, the "spyware" that pops up ads that are related
to whatever you are viewing on a Web page. So, if you're on a site about flowers, chances
are an FTD.com ad, for example, will pop up in your face. Back then, Gator needed to pay the
bills and make a little money, and I was damned if I was going to remember passwords, so I
accepted it and moved on.


But Gator continued to annoy me and countless others. They made enemies of the Internet Advertising
Bureau by actually covering up existing banner ads with their own targeted banners, a practice
for which they were sued by the IAB. Gator has since stopped covering up existing banners
after settling out of court with the IAB, but their sinister practices continue in other ways.


Gator is far and away the #1 source of pop-up ads. It installs separate software to run
in the background -- called GAIN -- and will pop open windows in three ways, based on the
contents of the current browser window:



  • A Gator-branded window that springs above the Gator icon in your taskbar tray and pops
    up and down several times.


  • A Gator-branded window that jumps to the middle of the page.


  • A non-branded window that pops up to the front of the page. The only way to tell that
    it's a Gator ad is the URL that is displayed in the blue title bar. If it has GAIN in the
    URL, you'll know it's one of theirs.


If you get tired of the ads and decide to turn off Gator, guess what? You still get pop-ups
because the GAIN software continues to run in the background of your computer. The only way
to turn it off is to type Control-Alt-Delete, find the GAIN program, and click End Task in
Windows. The insidious thing is that most people won't even know that Gator is the reason
behind all those annoying ads!


I completely understand that Gator is trying to make money, just like the rest of us, but
I object to the manner in which they have arrived here. They originally offered Gator free
of charge, but since the Internet business model of giving away content and services has been
debunked, they have decided to monetize their millions of users by selling the most targeted
advertising available, which is still cherished by advertisers despite the online ad "depression."
In order to move to this model, they have continually revised their terms of service to give
themselves the right to add these new ad features -- whether you wanted them or not. Gator
automatically updates itself to the current version and doesn't give you the option of keeping
a previous one.


Besides serving up targeted ads, who knows what Gator is doing with your information? Upon
reading more about the Gator
terms of service
, I was astonished at the number of rights they grant themselves. If you
use Gator, you should know about this. Here are some excerpts:



"We are The Gator Corporation. We, and third parties, provide you with GAINware in
exchange for your allowing The Gator Corporation to deliver things like advertisements,
information, and software to your computer through the Gator Advertising and Information
Network or GAIN."



Hmm, the words "third parties" and "deliver software" make me uneasy.
The TOS explains that Gator keeps track of your activities but that the Gator corporation
doesn't "know who you are." In other words, they don't actually associate any information
they record about you with your personal information. That's good, but this is what they do
with your information:



"While we don't know who you are, GAINware does collect and use certain information
as described below. We associate such information with an Anonymous ID randomly generated
by The Gator Corporation. Some information we may collect, use, and associate with your
Anonymous ID includes:



  • Which web pages your computer views and how much time is spent at those sites

  • Your response to the ads we display

  • Standard web log information and system settings

  • What software is on your computer

  • Your first name, country, and five digit ZIP code

  • Your GAINware usage characteristics and preferences


Information associated with your Anonymous ID is used in any of three ways: a) to offer
assistance (e.g. knowing when to offer help filling in a form or adjust your computer's
clock), b) to select and deliver installation files for optional new GAINware and/or third
party software applications, and c) to deliver advertisements and information to you on
behalf of our advertisers who are often competitors of the web sites you are viewing. "



I don't know about you, but these terms are very unsettling to me. You either accept their
terms, or you simply don't use the product! Now, I don't care if sites drop cookies on my
computer and use them to track what I do on THEIR site, but I strongly object to companies
using my cookie data or any other piece of software to track which software I have installed,
what I do at other sites, and so on. I think this is illegal activity that should be severely
curbed.


There are ways to cope with the onslaught of pop-up ads, however. You could try installing
pop-up killing software, but that's like trying to put a band aid on a severed limb! I personally
use software like this and it does a fairly decent job of killing most pop-ups. Some programs
only kill pop-ups, but others like AdSubtract
can disable ALL the ads on a Web page. As one who publishes a content site that is largely
ad- and affiliate-supported, I don't think it's fair to block all ads. Most advertisers are
courteous and don't use pop-ups. And I actually like the new Flash ads you see on Yahoo, CNET
and others. They're unobtrusive yet prominent enough to grab your attention.


I'm totally fed up and can't take pop ups anymore. I think the only solution is to kick the
Gator habit, at least until they change their ways. I'm going cold turkey. No more taking
the easy way out!


The "pros" of the password keeper are outweighed by the "cons"' of having
to put up with the spyware that it's bundled with, especially since both IE 6 and NS 6 have
password storage features. They don't always work too well, but at least they don't come with
spyware. IE also will remember what you've previously entered in form fields, so that feature
is also available without using Gator.


I would pay for the Gator software, if they were to remove the spyware, but until they do,
I'm kicking the Gator habit and will either memorize my passwords from now on, or write them
down and store them in a safe place!


Cory Kleinschmidt is the webmaster of Traffick.com. 

 

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