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13 March 2003

Overture To Partner With "ScumWare"

More evidence has come to light that suggests that pay-per-click search leader Overture is heading towards a permanent partnership with controversial online advertising network Gator Corp

Gator gained infamy 18 months ago for its ability to install 3rd party ad software on computers without the user's express knowledge. Gator delivers pop-up ads to people who download their online wallet software. Unfortunately many persons downloading the software don't realize they are agreeing to receive ads in exchange for its use. 

>> Critics of Gator and similar software call it "scumware", "spyware" or "thiefware". There are even web sites like dedicated to spreading the word about so-called scumware to non-savvy Internet users who may have installed it by accident. It's not just webmasters who dislike Gator either. If you "Google" Gator, you see it has its very own category in the Google Web Directory with a whole collection of web pages about it under the heading Allegedly Unethical Firms.

The controversy surrounding Gator prompted a number of lawsuits, the latest one involving some of America's largest news agencies. That suit was settled out of court last month for an undisclosed sum. In January, Gator launched a new paid search product called Search Scout. The software triggers a pop-under window when Gator users search on Google, Yahoo and similar search sites. The pop-up window lists pay per click search results on competing search services, attracting a lot of criticism for taking away revenue from the original search sites. At the time of launch, Overture, Terra Lycos and all confirmed that they were undertaking Search Scout ad testing with Gator. 





Today, in an email to a concerned advertiser published in a search engine forum, Overture has hinted at a more permanent relationship with Gator, angering advertisers:

"I understand that you may have some concerns about Gator. There has been a lot of recent media coverage about "spyware," "scumware," or applications that embed themselves into an Internet user's browser and possibly track online behavior. Overture has evaluated Gator's practices and determined that they are not consistent with what the media defines as "spyware."

Gator Corporation is testing Overture as its provider of paid search results for its Search Scout product. The test will continue until Overture has adequate data to determine the value of an affiliate relationship with Gator to both advertisers and users. Please note, all authorized distribution of Gator Corporation software products are "permission-based," and require an active consumer action before the software is downloaded and installed. Users must choose to receive this software in exchange for providing their affirmative assent to receiving ads; and, according to Gator, these GAIN ads are 10 to 40 times more effective than traditional Web advertisements."

Just what methods Overture used to "evaluate" Gator's practices is not clear. What is clear is that other pay-per-click engines such as LookSmart have re-thought their relationship with Gator and terminated it. Meanwhile, some Overture advertisers are threatening to boycott Overture if a formal arrangement with Gator proceeds, concerned that their own Overture pay-per-click ads will appear on the Gator network without their express permission. For now though, Overture's relationship with Gator appears solid, possibly jeopardizing their relationship with their own advertisers.


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