Microsofts Windows AntiSpyware application is no longer flagging adware products from Claria Corp. as a threat to PC users.
Less than a week after published reports of acquisition talks between Microsoft Corp. and the Redwood City, Calif.-based distributor of the controversial Gator ad-serving software, security researchers have discovered that Microsoft has quietly downgraded its Claria detections.
Anti-spyware activist Eric L. Howes, who serves as a consultant to Sunbelt Software, discovered the default changes during a recent test that included four Claria applications: Dashbar, Gator, PrecisionTime and Weatherscope.
According to the results published by Howes, four different builds of the Windows AntiSpyware beta detected the Claria products, but the default recommendation was "ignore."
Prior to the recent tests, Microsofts AntiSpyware tool detected Clarias products and presented users with a recommended action of "Quarantine."
Although the default has been changed to "ignore," users can still change the action to "Quarantine" or "Remove" via a drop-down menu.
Writing on the popular Broadband Reports security forum, Howes described the default changes as "troubling," coming so close on the heels of the acquisition talks between Microsoft and Claria.
According to Sunbelt president Alex Eckelberry, the default recommendation from Microsoft occurred on March 31. As part of a prior agreement, Microsoft is sharing adware/spyware definitions with Sunbelt.
"At any rate, does this mean that Claria will, in fact, be purchased by Microsoft? Not necessarily. It could mean, however, that the two companies are working together in some other capacity, or that Claria has successfully lobbied Microsoft to change the default action. Or, its a simple oversight," Eckelberry wrote in a blog entry that included screenshots of Microsofts Claria detections.
In addition to the Gator-branded products, Clarias adware applications include eWallet, DateManager, WeatherScope and PrecisionTime. The companys behavior-tracking database of users surfing habits is believed to be among the biggest in the world.
In the midst of increased consumer awareness and general distrust of the sector, Claria has attempted to clean up its reputation, distancing itself from some of the distribution affiliates that secretly installed its software, and making its software easier to remove.
However, critics argue that the adware products present a privacy threat and also degrades computer performance.
A recent spyware report from Webroot Software Inc. lists Clarias software as the second most prolific adware install, appearing on more than 2 percent of consumer desktops.
Webroot also counts Clarias GAIN application as the second biggest threat to desktop computers.