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Gator sheds skin, renames itself

The controversial advertising software and e-wallet company changes its name to better reflect its business in behavioral marketing.

Gator, the controversial advertising software and e-wallet company, has changed its name to better reflect its business in behavioral marketing.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based company plans to provide more details Thursday of its decision to adopt a name that better reflects its other businesses. The name change to Claria, however, is already reflected on Gator?s Web site.

Shortly after its creation in 1998, the company began distributing a browser plug-in that millions of people use to automatically fill in Web forms and passwords. That business is supported through the sale of advertising, which is targeted to specific users by monitoring their behavior as they surf the Web.

Claria later spun off the ad business, called GAIN, so it could support other third-party plug-ins and build up the number of Web surfers in its ad network. As a result, it also created a large Internet advertising research and analysis unit.

"We feel that the Claria Corporation name will allow us to better communicate the expanding breadth of offerings that we provide to consumers and advertisers," CEO and President Jeff McFadden said in a statement.

The change distances the company from a name that has become synonymous with "spyware"--that is, ad-tracking software that can be installed surreptitiously.

Despite landing such Fortune 500 advertisers as American Express and Target, the company has had difficulty dispelling the negative connotations of its software. It also has faced several lawsuits for its advertising practices.

Claria often distributes its application by bundling it with popular free software such as Kazaa and other peer-to-peer programs. When downloaded, the application serves pop-up and pop-under ads to people while they're surfing the Web. Ads can be keyed to sites so that a pitch for low mortgage rates, for example, can appear when a surfer visits a rival financial company's site.

The company in February settled litigation brought against it by the New York Post, The New York Times, Dow Jones and other media companies. The Washington Post, L.L. Bean and Extended Stay America also have sued the company, and their consolidated lawsuit will be decided by the in Washington, D.C.

Claria is also fighting to disassociate itself from the term "spyware." In recent weeks, it launched a legal offensive to divorce its name from the hated term, with some success. In response to a libel lawsuit, anti-spyware company PC Pitstop has settled with Gator and pulled Web pages critical of the company, its practices and its software.

Claria operates three units. GAIN Publishing includes the Gator software and provides support to other software companies such as video compression company DivXNetworks. GAIN Network is the division that delivers targeted pop-up advertisements to 38 million people who use GAIN Publishing software. Feedback Research provides online research and Web analytics based on data from its ad network.

The company has eight offices in the United States and Europe.