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Microsoft mulls buying Claria

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Microsoft is considering buying online marketing company Claria, according to a report in the New York Times. Under its former name Gator, the company became synonymous with pop-up web advertisements and spyware. Gator provided the spyware for Kazaa, iMesh and AudioGalaxy, and the software also tracked which websites users visited.

Two years ago a number of publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post sued Gator in a lawsuit that named them a "parasite". The company changed its name two years ago and in an attempt to expunge the past, sued the web site PCPitstop which referred to its past as a spyware propagator.

"If we find anyone publicly calling us spyware, we correct it and take action if necessary," Scott Eagle, Gator's senior vice president of marketing told, Cnet in 2003. While the company still maintains its flagship GAIN network (nee Gator Advertising Information Network), it has appointed a 'Chief Privacy Officer' Reed Freedman, a former attorney for the FTC, and now directs web surfers to its privacy policy pages.

And it's paid off. In February, Freedman was welcomed onto the Department of Homeland Security's federal privacy advisory committee.

The Times reports that the takeover talks have generated opposition within Microsoft, who fear that "critics portray Microsoft as a corporate Big Brother, trying to track every mouse click on the Web and profit from it."

In practice, Claria's software performs exactly the same role with data as Yahoo! and Google's advertising programs which identify the contents of a page before injecting text ads. Unlike Claria, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt has vowed to develop "a Google that knows more about you." Unlike Microsoft, no one seems to mind about the text ads: for none dare call it spyware. ®

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