Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/15/microsoft_claria/

Microsoft and Claria: together at last?

The sound of spleen venting

By Scott Granneman

Posted in Security, 15th July 2005 06:02 GMT

Comment I don't get mad too easily, but there's one thing guaranteed to really get me steaming, and that's when someone is lying to me. Right now I'm feeling lied to, and while I could be wrong, I don't think I am. Worse, I don't think I'm the only one who's the victim here. I think virtually all of you are having your chains yanked as well. Let me explain by going back in time about a month or so.

About a month ago, I was teaching a class at Washington University in St. Louis when one of my students asked me during a break about spyware on her computer. Namely, she was having a heck of a time dealing with yet another infestation, and she wanted advice. What anti-spyware should she install on her Windows machine? This is exactly what I told her, almost verbatim

"Go to Google and search for 'microsoft anti-spyware beta' and then go to the first link that comes up. From there you'll be able to download Microsoft's anti-spyware software. Well, it's not really Microsoft's - they bought the company that made it - but it's really good. They bought one of the best, though, so this is definitely one to have.

The nice thing about Microsoft's anti-spyware tool is that it's all automated. It automatically downloads updates, it automatically checks your PC as you use it, and it automatically scans your computer every night. That's good. You just install it, and then every morning it'll tell you if it found anything during the daily scan.

However, you can't rely on just the Microsoft anti-spyware software, since it doesn't catch everything. No spyware software does. Microsoft's does a good job, but you need another one to use in conjunction. I'd look at either Lavasoft's Ad-Aware or Spybot Search & Destroy. Pick one. They're both good, and they're both free, but they're not really automated. You'll need to remember to run the one you select once a week or so, and update it manually before you run it. If you use Microsoft's anti-spyware software along with another one, you'll be protected."

I was talking up Microsoft's software, and I meant it. It's called Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware, and it really is high quality stuff. It's certainly the best software of its type I've ever used. Granted, it somewhat hacks me off that Microsoft has in essence created a huge problem through its own shoddy software programming and practices, and is now buying its way out of the mess, in the process potentially putting a lot of other companies out of business. That's all I'm going to say on the matter, since Kelly Martin has already covered this issue quite well.

But in the last few weeks, I've read some very disturbing news. According to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is thinking about buying Claria Corporation for $500 million.

Who's Claria? Only one of the biggest, most invasive, slimiest spyware and adware companies operating on the Net today. Remember Gator? I guarantee you've had to clean Gator - or its variants GAIN, eWallet, DateManager, WeatherScope, or PrecisionTime - off of someone's Windows box if you've had to waste your time removing spyware. Gator Corp. changed its name to Claria Corp. in October 2003 in an effort to hide its origins, in the same way that Philip Morris, makers of cancer-causing nicotine-delivery devices, changed its name to Altria in January 2003 (boy, 2003 was a good year for companies with bad reputations changing their names, eh?).

And now Microsoft is thinking of buying these guys? What has Claria done to create value, real value, that warrants an estimated $500 million buyout?

How can a company that supposedly bases its software and policies on "Trustworthy Computing" even think about purchasing one of the absolutely worst spyware companies operating on the Net?

This is absolutely outrageous. I don't care what sorts of marketing data Claria has to offer Microsoft. That data was obtained through subterfuge, fakery, and a blatant disregard for users who don't know any better (for instance, a lack of uninstallers makes it impossible for the average user to get rid of this crap). It is tainted, both in terms of the actual value of the data and the morality of the process. Trustworthy Computing? A focus on security? Listening to customers? Bah. It is an insult, an absolute slap in the face to all Windows users, security pros, and Netizens, for Microsoft to even consider using its money to reward Claria Corporation with an acquisition.

But that slap in the face has been followed up, evidently, by a kick somewhere else a bit lower in the anatomy. Researchers have recently reported that Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware has downgraded Claria's garbage from "quarantine," and now recommends that users "ignore" its presence on their PCs!

By the way, it appears that Microsoft has downgraded spyware made by several other companies as well, including WhenU, Webhancer, eZula.TopText, and New.net, all of which are absolute scourges on folks' Windows machines. And they've all been This makes things even worse, and really exposes just how committed Microsoft is to customers' security and privacy. In pursuit of more info about users, Microsoft will use its cash to buy Claria, one of the worst spyware companies online, and meanwhile reassure users of its anti-spyware software that Claria's spyware can now be ignored? Honestly, this is just beyond the pale.

Microsoft has finally responded to the chorus of denunciations by issuing a public statement about the changes to Windows AntiSpyware. In that statement, Microsoft admits that after Claria contacted it, "adjustments [were] made to the classification of Claria software in order to be fair and consistent with how Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) handles similar software from other vendors".

Great. What were those adjustments? What did Claria tell Microsoft? How exactly does Claria fit into the "Analysis approach and categories" that Microsoft's anti-spyware software uses? Your guess is as good as mine. Microsoft ain't talking to us peons. We're just users. It's our computer, we're running the software, but we don't get to know how the software functions.

Microsoft, I really thought you were improving. I honestly believed that you were going to use Windows AntiSpyware to improve the lives of your customers. Now I find out that it was all just manipulations and lies. You still have a chance to do the right thing, Microsoft. Don't buy Claria, or any other spyware company, and do tell users of your anti-spyware software the truth about the garbage ruining their computers. It's the only ethical, right thing to do. As for me, I'm going to hold off recommending your Windows AntiSpyware until you clarify matters. From my perspective, until you change, that's the only ethical, right thing I can do.

Scott Granneman is a senior consultant for Bryan Consulting Inc. in St. Louis. He specializes in Internet Services and developing Web applications for corporate, educational, and institutional clients.