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In The Fox Guarding The Henhouse Department…

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A news item on CNET yesterday brings us the intriguing news that Claria Corporation has been named by the Department of Homeland Security to a federal privacy advisory board. The board’s membership includes representatives from firms such as IBM, Intel and Oracle, however, Claria’s inclusion is either puzzling or very telling. You see, Claria used to be known as Gator, and is known for its adware, which as I defined in a previous post is software that delivers random ads to your desktop system occasionally targeted on the basis of what you’re looking for or at. Adware of course is rarely intentionally installed, usually it’s bundled with some other software which provides some functionality the end user desires (e.g. P2P clients) and it’s often installed by other adware or malware that makes its way onto unprotected computers. The average end-user would probably classify Claria’s products as spyware, which of course gets into the semantic issues I talked about here, and I would suppose a case could be made that it indeed is intrusive on privacy to the point where if you search for “Ford” and an ad for GM pops up, then the classification may be somewhat applicable (although if it’s not sending information to a remote system for collection it’s not in the strictest sense spyware). Claria’s products have been documented as being targeted and designed to appear at competing sites, which has resulted in litigation in the past.

The interesting question is what value does an outfit like Claria bring to the table in this context? Is it data mining expertise? If so, does that indeed take them from the adware to the spyware classification. Is it expertise in stealthily installing persistent code? Is it deep knowledge of system internals that our friends in Redmond don’t care to share?

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