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NebuAd looks to 'spyware' firm for recruits

'Typical of the Valley'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

In Silicon Valley, the world's tech capital, the job market is tight, with sales people and engineers in short supply. So what's an ambitious startup like NebuAd to do?

One option: Recruit some folk from the nearby ad outfit that's fallen on hard times. After all, NebuAd's in the ad business too. Much like Phorm, it uses deep packet inspection to track the behavior of net surfers from inside third-party ISPs.

According to public profiles posted to the social networking sites LinkedIn and LinkSV, NebuAd shares at least five high-ranking employees with Gator Corporation, the company that famously changed its name to Claria in October 2003 in an apparent attempt to shake-off its reputation as a spyware distributor.

These employees are: Scott Tavenner, Vice President of Business Development; Chuck Gilbert, Senior Product Manager; Mike Miller, Vice President of Ad Sales; Amy Auranicky, Director of Advertising Sales; and Jeanne Houwelingis, Vice President of Advertising Services.

Like Claria, NebuAd is based in Redwood City, California, and the company registered its domain in June 2006, just as Claria was leaving the adware business.

But NebuAd says that any ties to Claria are tenuous. "NebuAd and Claria are separate companies with different investors and management and have never been associated with each other," reads a statement from NebuAd.

"NebuAd was founded in 2006 by noted experts in the anti-virus, cyber security, and online marketing and analytics industry with a fundamental understanding and focus on consumer privacy and protection. NebuAd’s co-founders come from E.piphany, Juniper Networks, McAfee, Scopus, and Symantec. Some former Claria employees work at NebuAd, but this is typical in the Valley."

Gator re-made

In 1998, Gator introduced an eponymous desktop software package that tracks the behavior of web surfers as a means of targeting display ads, and it was often bundled with free downloads such as the P2P-sharing app Kazaa. When the company renamed itself, it also renamed its software: Gator became Gain.

Multiple anti-spyware tools identify and remove Gator/GAIN. Symantec, for instance, advocates removal. But Gator Corp./Claria Corp. had always maintained it does not distribute spyware. In 2003, it sued PC Pitstop for libel went the desktop health software maker used the spyware tag to describe Gator.

NebuAd has tested its more sophisticated behavioral ad service on several American ISPs, including Charter, WOW!, Knology, and Embarq. When Charter announced its partnership with the company, two US Congressmen fired a letter at the ISP, asking that test be put on hold.

"We respectfully request that you do not move forward on Charter Communications' proposed venture with NebuAd until we have an opportunity to discuss with you issues raised by this proposed venture," wrote Ed Markey, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, and Joe Barton, ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Generally, ISP subscribers can opt-out of NebuAd's service. But Markey and Barton argue that unless the service is opt-in only, it may violate US law. ®

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