October 30, 2003 11:20 AM PST

Gator sinks teeth into new image

Gator, the controversial advertising software and e-wallet company, on Thursday changed its name to Claria, in a bid to distance itself from a brand that has become associated with allegations of "spyware."

As previously reported, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company took the new name, saying it better reflects its other businesses.

Shortly after its creation in 1998, the company began distributing a browser plug-in millions of people use to automatically fill in Web forms and passwords. That business is supported through the sale of advertising, which is targeted to specific users by monitoring their behavior as they surf the Web.

Claria later spun off the ad business, called GAIN (Gator Advertising and Information Network) so that it could support other third-party plug-ins and build up the number of Web surfers in its ad network. As a result, it also created a large Internet advertising research and analysis unit.

"We feel that the Claria Corporation name will allow us to better communicate the expanding breadth of offerings that we provide to consumers and advertisers," company CEO Jeff McFadden said in a statement.

The change distances the company from a name that has become synonymous with "spyware"--that is, ad-tracking software that can be installed surreptitiously.

Despite landing such Fortune 500 advertisers as American Express and Target, the company has had difficulty dispelling the negative connotations of its software. It also has faced several lawsuits for its advertising practices.

Claria often distributes its application by bundling it with popular free software such as Kazaa and other peer-to-peer programs. When downloaded, the application serves pop-up and pop-under ads to people while they surf the Web. Ads can be keyed to sites so that a pitch for low mortgage rates, for example, can appear when a surfer visits a rival financial company's site.

The company in February settled litigation brought against it last year by the New York Post, The New York Times, Dow Jones and other media companies. The Washington Post, L.L. Bean and Extended Stay America have also sued the company, and their consolidated lawsuit will be decided by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C.

Claria is also fighting to disassociate itself from the term "spyware." In recent weeks, it launched a legal offensive to divorce its name from the hated term, with some success. In response to a libel lawsuit, anti-spyware company PC Pitstop has settled with Gator and pulled Web pages critical of the company, its practices and its software.

Claria operates three units. GAIN Publishing includes the Gator software and provides support to other software companies such as video compression company DivXNetworks. GAIN Network is the division that delivers targeted pop-up advertisements to 38 million people who use GAIN Publishing software. Feedback Research provides online research and Web analytics that are based on data from its ad network.

The company has eight offices in the United States and Europe.

 

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