Yahoo Plays Favorites with Some Adware

Yahoo's anti-spyware tool lets software from companies such as Claria and WhenU.com go undetected by default. Meanwhile, its paid-search division helps Claria reap revenue from listings.

When it comes to blocking intrusive Internet software, Yahoo Inc.s new Anti-Spy gives adware the benefit of the doubt.

The beta version of the spyware-fighting toolbar add-on, which Yahoo released last week, doesnt default to detect adware—a category of software in which Yahoos paid search division has a financial stake.

Instead, users who want to identify adware in their systems via Anti-Spy must check a box each time they conduct a scan.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Yahoos release of the Anti-Spy beta.

Among the programs the Sunnyvale, Calif., company classifies as adware are controversial ones from Claria Corp. (formerly The Gator Corp.) and WhenU.com Inc., two common targets of spyware critics who say the companies trick users into accepting unwanted downloads and flood machines with pop-up ads.

With Claria, best known for its Gator eWallet application, Yahoo is also a business partner. Claria, based in Redwood City, Calif., delivers pop-up and other forms of advertising from its GAIN ad network through software downloaded onto users machines.

Yahoos Overture division, a leading provider of paid search listings, contributed 31 percent of Clarias 2003 revenues through a partnership in which it supplies paid listings to Clarias SearchScout service, according to Clarias April S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

SearchScout is triggered when a user visits a Web search engine and displays a pop-under window with an alternative set of paid search results. Overture reached an agreement with Claria in March 2003 before it was acquired by Yahoo, the filing states. It pays Claria a percentage of the ad revenue generated when users click on the paid listings.

Dave Methvin, chief technology officer at PC Pitstop LLC, said he is concerned with Yahoos contradiction in offering a spyware-fighting tool while also aligning with one of the biggest purveyors of adware programs.

/zimages/4/28571.gifFor insights on security coverage around the Web, check out eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

PC Pitstop, a Dakota Dunes, S.D., company that runs a Web site for PC diagnostics, last year settled a libel lawsuit filed by Claria over its public criticism of Claria and its distribution methods.

"Its great that theyre giving away a free anti-spyware toolbar," Methvin said of Yahoo. "I just wish that they wouldnt turn around and, with the other hand, hand Gator one-third of its revenue."

For their part, Yahoo officials said Tuesday that the distinction between the qualities of spyware and adware is determined by the third-party vendor providing the technology, PestPatrol Inc.

Next Page: Its about providing visibility, Yahoo spokeswoman says.