Claria promotes its software through bundles with games targeted at children. Claria shows a license, but the license's prominent terms make no mention of effects of Claria software on user privacy. At the moment when users are asked to press "Accept," the word "advertisement" does not appear on screen, and the first mention of privacy effects is six pages down in a 53-page scroll box.
Claria recently reported that more than 40 million users run Claria's advertising software -- programs that monitor what web pages users visit, send this information to Claria's central servers, and show users pop-up ads. Yet users reportedly hate pop-up ads, and storing a detailed record of users' online activities raises clear privacy concerns. So why do so many users run Claria software?
Claria offers one reason for its prevalence: Claria says it "keep[s] software free" by offering payments to those who distribute Claria programs to users' PCs. But after examining Claria's installation methods, my sense is that Claria often plays on user confusion, carelessness, or naivete -- including distributing its software in ways that disproportionately target children. Last week I posted an analysis showing Claria distributed at Ezone.com, a cartoon games site that by its own description seeks to serve children. This page shows a further method of Claria installations targeting youth: Bundles with video games particularly likely to be of particular interest to youth.
Notable characteristics of this installation:
What's the big deal about offering software via methods that tend to reach children? For one, children generally cannot enter into contracts -- so even if a child clicks the "Yes" button Claria subsequently presents, Claria's license terms may not be binding. Also, children may be less able to assess the merits of a Claria offer -- less able to determine whether Claria software is a good value, less likely to realize the privacy and other consequences of installing Claria software, less inclined to understand Claria's lengthy license agreement.
For Claria to claim that its users "agree to receive advertising," Claria needs the users who accept its software to be consenting adults, not kids. Advertising its software on sites that largely cater to children tends to undermine Claria's claim of receiving meaningful user consent.
Interestingly, Claria's license agreement imposes no requirements as to a user's age -- despite requiring that users make numerous other specific representations (e.g. agreeing only to link to the Claria web site in certain specific ways).
Analysis of Disclosures Shown Prior to Installation
The Dope Wars video game installation discloses the inclusion of Claria software in two steps, which I call "Disclosure I" and "Disclosure II." First, Disclosure I prominently explains that Dope Wars is "supported by advertising" from Claria. Then Disclosure II follows up with a lengthy license presenting detailed terms -- some 43 pages of Claria license (4,747 words), immediately followed by ten additional pages of Dope Wars license (within the same scroll box), for a total of 5,679 words of license text.
Notwithstanding these two disclosures, Dope Wars fails to prominently present the important privacy and other effects of installing Claria software. Disclosure I says only that Claria will show ads, and that these ads are "selected based on [the] Web sites" users view -- without disclosing that Claria will transmit users' online activities to its servers and will store this data in what eWeek called the seventh-largest decision-support database in the world. To learn that Claria will track and collect "which web pages your computer visits," a user must scroll to the sixth page of Claria's license as shown in Disclosure II. Users who only read the text affirmatively shown to them -- in the actual on-screen text, without scrolling -- are not told about any privacy effects of accepting Claria.
The Dope Wars installation procedure discourages users from learning more about Claria's practices. Disclosure I prominently mentions the inclusion of Claria, but it offers no opportunity to learn more (i.e. no link for details). Disclosure II does offer details, but the screen's format deters users from investigating further. For example, the license window begins with three pages of all-caps text -- a format known to be particularly hard to read.
The Dope Wars installer fails to use graphics to help convey the information at issue. For example, the installer fails to show an example of the kind of pop-up ad that will result from clicking "I agree." The failure to show a helpful or informative graphic is particularly notable since Disclosure I does include a large Claria logo and slogan.
Even Dope Wars's mention of advertising is importantly deficient, vis-a-vis Dope Wars's request that users accept such advertising. Disclosure I prominently tell users that Claria will show advertising, but Disclosure I only asks users to press a button labeled "Next"; Disclosure I does not explicitly ask users to accept any terms or enter into any agreement. On Disclosure II, users are asked to choose "I agree" -- but the word "advertisement" is entirely missing from the on-screen text in Disclosure II.
No Uninstaller Provided
When a user receives Claria software in a bundle with Dope Wars, Claria fails to add an entry to Control Panel's Add/Remove listing. Users seeking to remove Claria are therefore likely to face considerable difficulty determining how to do so. See screenshot showing Control Panel Add/Remove with no Claria entry included. See video, showing installation of Dope Wars (including Claria) (0:00 through 0:39), display of a Claria ad (confirming that Claria installation is complete) (5:26-5:45), but no entry added to Control Panel's Add/Remove list (7:05-7:17).
With no Claria entry in Add/Remove, users may turn to Claria's instructions to try to learn how to remove Claria software. But Claria's instructions give erroneous references that lead users in circles, without actually removing Claria software. A user wanting to remove Claria might naturally click on Claria's About GAIN entry within the Start Menu. The first tab, "What is GAIN?," offers no information about how to remove Claria software. The final tab, "Managing GAIN Messages," does offer a link that purportedly gives a list of all programs that must be removed in order to remove Claria. But clicking on that link leads to only an ordinary web page, without the promised list of programs to be removed. Instead, that web page refers back to the About GAIN program, but to a nonexistent section within that program. See screenshot and video at 6:26 to 7:05. In short, users attempting to remove Claria by following Claria's own instructions will find their attempts unsuccessful.
So Claria fails to provide and document a working uninstall procedure. Yet Claria's license agreement insists that only Claria's official uninstaller is authorized; any other removal method is claimed to constitute a breach of Claria's license. If a user ultimately turns to a third-party removal tool for help removing Claria software (for lack of any other apparent option), the user is in breach of Claria's license agreement.
There's a lot Claria could do better here. For starters, don't bundle Claria advertising software with games targeting children. In those bundles that are proper and appropriate, be sure to include all relevant facts about Claria software, not just the facts that can be most easily sugar-coated with euphemisms. And provide a working uninstaller.
Last Updated: May 2, 2005 - Sign up for notification of major updates and related work.