Gator is Back - But this time it's cool apparently...

Story Text:

It's unlikely that there is anyone at all reading this post that has not at least heard of Gator, the notorious spyware app that watched your habbits and fed your screen "helpful" popups whilst you browsed. What's old is new again though, and as Dave Taylor, who once worked for Gator (now they're called Claria) asks "Now that privacy's dead, is Gator the killer app after all?"

He's talking about a new service form Linkedin that sits on your machine doing much the same thing Gator did, but helping you find relevant job opportunities:

At this point in the evolution of the Web, though, we don't even think about these tracking applications. The Alexa toolbar, the Google toolbar, the Yahoo toolbar, etc. etc., all dutifully track where you go and report back that information to a central server, and far from people being upset by that violation of privacy, most are eager to download and install one or more of these toolbars on their computer.

More details on the LinkedIn app can be found in Dave's post.

But that's not all...

I just noticed Clickz running a story about a set of "apps" coming out that has a very familiar smell about it...

Market research firm Compete today is expected to unveil a new private-label behavioral marketing platform. Called Voicebox, it uses desktop applications and Web toolbars to help marketers reach customers as they're on the verge of decision-making.

"Today's consumers are more informed and more elusive than ever," said Don McLagan, chairman, president and CEO of Compete. "The battleground for consumer attention has moved to the desktop."

For marketers, the benefit is access to comprehensive information about their existing customers. Because Voicebox uses desktop applications and Web browser toolbars, the platform is able to keep tabs on customers wherever they go online. The tactic is similar to that used by adware players Claria and WhenU, and it may raise similar privacy concerns.

Erm.. HELLO? That's GATOR right?

Let's just have this bit one more time shall we: "the platform is able to keep tabs on customers wherever they go online."

Holy shit, shouldn't the headline on that clicz story be "Gator Clone Set to Launch?" - Behavioral targeting my arse!

Clicz aside, cos they just wind me right up, how the hell have we managed to come to a point where spyware apps are being reported as being "behavioral targeting" and why the hell do these morons think that interupting me on my desktop is going to be cool for me?

oooooh, i gotta move on....


"behavioral targeting"

Well it is, isn't it? Even this otherwise reasonable guy seem to think that "context is cool". He's got a point though, as related to search (recent Google patents point the same way), but what separates information search from product search? And who owns the data? Opt in or opt out? And so it goes...

Spyware - Pure and simple.

I think the article is DEAD WRONG. People do not want their activities tracked and reported, the information stored and studied by some company so they can figure out how to better part them from their money.

The reason people are so "eager" to download these spyware apps is simple, they don't have any idea what information is being reported or how intensively they are being tracked.

I can tell you all from personal experience that once people KNOW what these apps are doing with their private information they get upset (Real Upset) and they can't get that spyware off their system fast enough.

I have recently spoken to US Senator Craig and he tells me that the US Congress is aware of the problem and that we should expect some laws in the US within the next year or so that will better address privacy issues online. According to the Senator, online privacy is one of the top ten issues that people have contacted him and the other Senators about in the last year. According to the Senator, ALL of the people that have contacted him about online privacy are very upset that some "company" has stolen their private information.


Don't trust the opinions espoused on ClickZ. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I've seen a number of their advertisers given awards by them. And I'm pretty sure Claria was an advertiser not too long ago.

Oh, great, the government is a WONDERFUL parent!

Oh boy, getting the government to INCREASE oversight over Internet issues. Just what we need. More Hillary Clintons and Orin Hatch's. Oh Lord, help me now, even though I'm agnostic :D

Lots0, you assume that people are stupid and don't know what's good for 'em. To some extent, I agree with you. Look at the Billboard charts for crying out loud ;). But from a broader perspective, there are a TON of us who *do* know what we want, do understand risks and benefits, and dammit, some of us *want* to be tracked. I willingly and knowingly use a club card at my local grocery store because the 23% I save over the store's regular prices (yes, on average) is worth it to me, despite lots of Evil Corporations knowing that I like veggie corndogs and muesli (aside: not mixed together).

Similarly, I am always signed into my Google account and Y! account and I have both toolbars installed (on different browsers). I believe sets of personalized content / SERPs / etc. are the way of the future, or at least the future I want to be a part of, and damn if I'll let some meddling kids, er, geeks take away my right to be tracked so I can get content, coupons, interesting job offers targeted to my behaviors and interests.

So lay off, bub. I'm happy (or at least less apprehensive) to have the government get involved in deceptive practices (spyware, significantly breached privacy policies, etc.), but you'll remove my options and my right to share my info and part with my money as I see fit over my dead keyboard fingers.

I willingly and knowingly

I willingly and knowingly use a club card at my local grocery store because the 23% I save over the store's regular prices (yes, on average) is worth it to me...

Don't you know you don't 'need' that free tracking card to get that discount, every cashier has a card they use to give the same discount to ANYONE that asks (No card and No personal information required).

Do you think it's in the companies best interest to let everyone know that they don't need to provide their personal information in exchange for a discount, when they can get the same discount without providing their personal information?

BTW - I have never said I was against any type of opt-in advertising, I think those kind of programs are great, everyone knows what they are getting - in advance.

shopping cards / opt-in

I suppose I could bug the cashier to swipe the 'general' card and give me the discount. Never thought of it. But as I said, I see no downsides to the aggregation of that data. I'm far more concerned about what my credit card companies and other financial institutions do with my information. In fact, my own key concern about aggregated personal data of mine held by third parties is the when that data is: highly personal or ripe for abuse (e.g., my social security number, my salary information) and/or highly inaccurate (e.g., credit report showing accounts that aren't mine). If there's any room for gov't intervention, I believe it's in the area of requiring such data-holders to appropriately disclose records to each consumer and facilitate corrections.

And on the opt-in thing... I didn't get that from your initial post. What sort of opt-in advertising / data aggregation are you okay with? Gimme an example or two :)

Lastly, re: gator... my big beef with that company was their immoral (not necessarily illegal) bundling and poor disclosure habits. Not to mention (when I tried it out of curiosity) I didn't find the bargains it suggested to be much of a bargain at all.

There is a very good study

There is a very good study on this at Pew Internet which was published in July this year. The first couple of pages give you a very good overview of the problem as they see it.

I think one of the main problems with spyware is the almost total lack of disclosure about what they actually do and the sneaky ways they use to get it installed. There is also the problem of some of it just being bad software which affects how the users machines run.

With all due respect, although "there are a TON of us who *do* know what we want, do understand risks and benefits, and dammit, some of us *want* to be tracked" there are probably another 500,000 or more Tons of us do not and about 1,000,000 tons of us who do not know what information is being captured and how that is being used and if we did we would want it stopped immediately.

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