Advertisers Using WhenU
Benjamin Edelman - Spyware Research, Legislation, and Suits

[ Background - Methodology - Listings - Discussion - Disclosures ]

This page gives listings of major companies currently showing ads on the WhenU software network. In the context of widespread litigation against Claria and WhenU and their advertisers, it is of interest to know who is using WhenU's services, even though few companies openly discuss their use of such services. WhenU advertisers include some well-known firms, such as Priceline, J.P. Morgan Chase, Verizon, Merck, and T-Mobile. But WhenU also runs hundreds of advertisements for online gambling, loans, sexual health services, and online dating -- not to mention three ads for online psychics.


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Background & Motivationf

Who advertises on WhenU? The question has come to have immense practical significance. Consider Major League Baseball's statement of June 29 (press release; "MLB Says It Won't Work With Online Firms Who Use Spyware" (paid registration required)): MLB apparently now seeks not to do business with those firms who show advertising using Claria and WhenU. In this context, it's especially desirable to know who advertises on Claria and WhenU -- information that's also helpful to consumers seeking to avoid doing business with certain merchants, and to those assessing possible legal suits against spyware companies or their advertisers.

As to Claria, public documents provide some information about major advertisers. Claria's recent SEC S1 filing (page 52) provides an explicit listing of twenty of Claria's biggest advertisers during calendar year 2003. Although news reports and hands-on testing indicate that many of these advertisers have subsequently ceased using Claria, Claria's public filing provides at least an initial sense of who advertises on Claria. (In future work, I intend to extend my 2003 Gator Advertisers (partial) listing to report more Claria advertisers and to report current Claria advertisers.)

But it's not as easy to find out who advertises on WhenU. Since WhenU has not stated any intent to sell shares to the public (though it is seeking $50 million from private investors), WhenU has filed no S1 form listing its major advertisers. WhenU's Corporate Backgrounder (section: Clients & Partners) lists advertisers purportedly using WhenU -- but of the seven entries on WhenU's list, I have seen no recent ads for five (American Express, Bank of America, British Airways, Ford, and Microsoft). In short, members of the press and public wishing to know who advertises on WhenU -- who pays WhenU money and who funds its operations -- have had no obvious source to look to for this information. Installing WhenU software on a test PC is one approach, but seeing most of WhenU's ads would require extended web browsing and might be difficult. In addition, installing WhenU software raises privacy and security concerns.

A variety of prior research has attempted to list selected advertisers on Claria. Prior research includes the following:

Recent news reports have attempted to profile major advertisers using Claria and WhenU's services:

This article attempts to extend prior research by listing major and well-known current WhenU advertisers, as well as by providing a comprehensive examination and classification of all WhenU advertisers. For each advertiser, I have provided one or more representative advertisements.


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Consistent with the methodology explained in my prior articles about advertisement-display software (e.g. Documentation of Gator Advertisements and Targeting, WhenU Violates Own Privacy Policy), I installed WhenU software on a dedicated computer in my lab. Using a network monitor ("packet sniffer"), I watched WhenU's transmissions over my own Internet connection.

I observed that WhenU retrieves, via plain text HTTP, a 6MB+ text file that gives a relational database of advertisements and their trigger conditions. I examined this database at length, along with certain JavaScript "control code" that implements WhenU's targeting decisions. (This code is freely available in "obfuscated" form on the PCs of computers with WhenU installed, and it was previously available, without JavaScript obfuscation, on WhenU's ordinary public web servers.)

From these sources, I found in WhenU's database the full listing of all advertisements WhenU displays. Each advertisement gets one entry on a list, and text in each entry gives a partial URL to be placed in a URL template in order to access and retrieve the specified advertisement.


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Advertisement Listings

The images below reflect a small sample of WhenU advertisements -- by advertisers who are particularly well-known and/or for products that are particularly well-known. See also a larger version of this sample of advertisements with larger thumbnails. An earlier version of this site listed selected domain names that might trigger the display of these ads. However, I have removed trigger information from my web site upon receiving a request from WhenU, through counsel, indicating that this information causes WhenU "significant ongoing competitive and business harms."

The advertisers shown above include Travelocity, Priceline, Thrifty, Best Western, Time Life Walt Disney Classics, KaBloom, Virgin Mobile, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, Verizon, Chase, ING Direct, Ameriquest, the University of Phoenix Online, multiple DirecTV resellers, Pitney Bowes, Merck, multiple Viagra sellers, and multiple online gambling sites.

I have prepared a tabulation of what I believe to be all current WhenU graphical advertisements (excluding "coupons" and sponsored link listings). See the following indexes:
Advertisement Type # Ads # Advertisers view ads
Gambling, Betting and Bingo 327 49 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Loans (e.g. mortgages, refinancing, car loans, payday loans, and "quick cash") 263 35 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Travel (e.g. plane tickets, hotels, car rentals, cruises) 213 21 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Credit Cards & Credit Reports 122 10 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Electronics & Telecommunications 117 17 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Sexual Health 99 9 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Insurance (e.g. home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, wholesale insurance, pet insurance)   92 11 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Dating 89 14 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Health & Medicine (e.g. diets, vitamins, hair restoration, and heart attack prevention) 58 7 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Music, Books and Movies (e.g. book clubs, CD clubs, DVD rental, ticket brokers) 57 8 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Banking & Investing 55 5 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Homes & Home Improvement 48 10 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Clothing & Accessories (including handbags, bras, rings, jewelry, hair removal) 41 9 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Education (e.g. online degrees, vocational education) 32 3 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Flowers 16 3 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Printing (ink cartridges) 10 2 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Miscellaneous (including auctions, business cards, cigarettes, psychics, etc.)    109 20 all ads, one ad per advertiser
Total 1752 234  

My grouping of advertisements by advertiser uses WhenU's own designations of advertiser. For example, looking at the ad available at , I see that it is from advertiser "cheaptix" and that it is advertisement number 108 for that advertiser. (However, advertisement numbers are not continuous -- numbers usually start at 100, and there are many skips.) When I reference (for example) 35 distinct advertisers, I mean 35 different names where "cheaptix" exists in the advertisement URL. (However, when multiple names are very similar, and when the corresponding ads all point to the same company, I treat those ads as coming from a single company. For example, ads from aud_casonnet and aud_casonnetaustfr are all ads from a single company, Casino On Net) In principle the advertiser names in WhenU's directory could be arbitrary, but in practice I find that each advertiser's ads are clearly labeled with that advertiser's unique ID in WhenU's directory. I therefore defer to these categorizations -- WhenU's own categorizations -- when stating how many distinct advertisers use WhenU's directory, and how many ads each advertiser is running.

My counting of the number of distinct advertisements also defers to the number of distinct entries in the WhenU directory. WhenU's directory often includes multiple ads that are, to my eye, nearly or exactly identical. In principle the ads may differ in some small way -- in font size or placement, graphical style, or hyperlink destination. In other instances, the ads may only differ in their timing or triggering rules. For lack of any rigorous way to avoid duplicates, I include all the ads in the listings linked above. I estimate that consolidating the apparent duplication among advertisements would reduce the number of distinct advertisements by approximately 20%.


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Discussion   [ Characterizing the Ads | Sponsored Link Ads | Change Over Time | Largest Advertisers | Compliance | Targeting Competitors | Response ]

Characterizing WhenU Advertisements

I have attempted to retrieve all 4,086 advertisements in WhenU's advertisement directory as of June 25, 2004. After excluding advertisements that are "coupons" or sponsored link listings, and after excluding advertisements that I am unable to retrieve (for example, due to HTTP 404 "not found" errors), I have obtained a list of bona fide graphical advertisements currently running on the WhenU network. I have confirmed the completeness of this list by extended web browsing on a computer with WhenU, never receiving any graphical advertisement not included on my list. Reviewing this listing, I can draw conclusions about the kinds of advertisements WhenU shows, including the prevalence of certain kinds of advertisements.

As of June 25, WhenU's advertisement directory includes 327 gambling, lottery, lotto, or casino advertisements (selected ads); 263 ads offering loans; 213 about travel; and so forth for other categories, as described in the categories table above.

I intend to discuss and analyze WhenU's "coupons" in a future article. In that article, I will discuss how WhenU's coupons work, what savings (if any) the coupons offer to users, and what effects these coupons have on affiliate merchants and on ordinary affiliates' commissions through merchants' affiliate programs.

Sponsored Link Advertisements

My listings and analysis intentionally omit textual "sponsored link" advertisements.

In partnership with FindWhat (and perhaps other sources), WhenU sometimes shows one or more sponsored links in a popup or popunder, triggered by a user's web activities. These popups share many characteristics with other WhenU popups: The ads are not authorized by the web sites they cover and do not help support the expenses of those sites; users may mistakenly think the ads are authorized by or affiliated with the underlying sites; the ads tend to pull users away from the sites they had initially requested.

Nonetheless, I omit these ads from this article's listings because this article seeks to report advertisers intentionally promoting their products through WhenU. Advertisers bidding for sponsored link positions at FindWhat may not understand that their ads are running on WhenU. In fact, a Google search of for the word "whenu" yields no results. See also discussion among FindWhat advertisers who had not known that their ads would run on WhenU and had not approved of such display of their ads.

In short, it would be erroneous to conclude that when advertisers' sponsored links appear in WhenU popups, the links appear with advertisers' knowledge or consent. The corresponding advertisements are therefore not appropriately included in my reporting of advertisers intentionally promoting their products through WhenU.

Change in Advertisements Over Time

I have tracked WhenU advertisements since May 2003. I have observed numerous large advertisers depart from WhenU's network and not return. For example, last year I observed ads on WhenU from British Airways and Sheraton Hotels, neither of which is now present in WhenU's advertisement directory. Similarly, I have seen no recent ads for five of the seven advertisers listed in WhenU's Corporate Backgrounder (section: Clients & Partners) -- namely American Express, Bank of America, British Airways, Ford, and Microsoft.

However, during this same period, WhenU has surely obtained many new advertisers.

On the basis of my comparisons to date, I am unable to draw a conclusion one way or the other as to the preeminence of WhenU's advertisers now as compared with a year ago.

WhenU's Largest Advertisers

I have no data about the frequency with which users are shown WhenU advertisements or the frequency with which users click on these ads. However, I do have information about the number of ads included in WhenU's database per advertiser.

WhenU's largest advertisers are as follows:

Priceline (airline tickets, hotels, rental cars) 51 advertisements  
J.P. Morgan Chase (Perfect Card, Platinum Card) 43 advertisements
Casino On Net (online gambling) 37 advertisements
Verizon (conference calling, DSL, voice over broadband)    28 advertisements
Orexis (male sexual enhancement products)    24 advertisements

Compliance with National, State, and Local Law

Some of WhenU's advertisements raise questions of compliance with relevant national, state, and local laws.

For example, gambling is prohibited in many US states. If WhenU shows advertisements for online gambling, does it violate such laws? Consider Arizona's "gambling promotion" statute (13-3303): "Except for amusement, regulated or social gambling, a person commits promotion of gambling if he knowingly does either of the following for a benefit: ... Furnishes advice or assistance for the conduct, organization, management, direction, supervision or financing of gambling." Via its popup ads for online gambling, WhenU furnishes assistance to the conduct of online gambling. Such gambling is for money (not merely for amusement). See also Tennessee's "gambling promotion" statute (39-17-503), Texas's (47.03), Utah's (76-10-1104), more.

Other categories of WhenU advertisements raise similar issues. Are all the insurance companies WhenU advertises licensed to do business in all US states? Are the interest rates charged by WhenU's "payday loans" (and similar) advertisers consistent with state usury laws?

As discussed in my Report from WhenU v Utah and in my expert declaration in WhenU v Utah (PDF, paragraphs 55 to 61), WhenU's software and even WhenU's own promotional documents show that WhenU has developed the ability to show certain advertisements only in certain states. WhenU employs a combination of methods to determine users' locations: WhenU asks some users for their zip codes (screenshot), and WhenU also uses IP-location services from Quova to determine users' locations from their IP addresses. Examination of WhenU's software (including the data it stores in users' registries) shows that WhenU's software specifically tracks users' residence as determined by WhenU's data collection systems. Accordingly, even though it might be unrealistic to ask ordinary web site operators to avoid showing (for example) gambling advertisements to users in certain states, WhenU is well equipped to implement such restrictions, if it so chooses.

Advertisement Targeting: Covering Competitors' Sites

The primary focus of this article is on advertisers' identities, not on advertisement targeting. Nonetheless, the WhenU directory provides extensive data about advertisement targeting, some of which is helpful to assessing the consequences of advertising on WhenU.

In general, in my experience using WhenU software, WhenU ads cover competitors' sites. Some WhenU ads may cover related products (e.g. car rental ads covering an airline's site), and other ads may have delays that tend to prevent covering direct competitors. Still, my hands-on testing of WhenU software indicates that the majority of WhenU ads are targeted at direct competitors.

At least some advertisers seem to be confused about the question of whether WhenU ads target competitors. Consider Verizon's recent claim in the Wall Street Journal's "Pesky Pop-Up Ads Go Mainstream" that Verizon "refuses to let its ads pop up while a user is viewing a competitor's site." This claim is demonstrably false. My hands-on testing of WhenU's software indicates that WhenU's ads target direct competitors of Verizon, such as the domain names listed below.

To provide tangible permanent evidence of Verizon ads covering competitors' sites, I have preserved screen capture videos of browsing to and on a computer with WhenU. In each video, I quickly receive a Verizon ad, via WhenU's popup system. See covad video, direcway video. (If prompted by Internet Explorer, I recommend viewing these videos in Windows Media Player, not in IE's sidebar player, because IE will squeeze the videos into a window too small for them to be visible.) See also screenshots: Verizon ad covering the covad site, covering the direcway site.

I have previously viewed Verizon ads covering other sites, including portions of and Unfortunately, I have not retained video evidence of these occurrences.

Responses from Advertisers, WhenU

As discussed in the media coverage linked above, many advertisers hesitate to comment on their use of advertising from WhenU or similar companies such as Claria. Nonetheless, my hope is that my research will spur discussion with and among WhenU advertisers.

WhenU responded to my research with concerns, expressed throough counsel, that my posting of advertisement targeting data causes WhenU "significant ongoing competitive and business harms." Out of an abundance of caution, I have removed targeting advertisement information from my site.

Others' discussions with major Claria advertisers indicate that some Claria advertisers seem not to fully understand Claria's service or how to remove it. (See erroneous removal instructions from Orbitz.) Other advertisers, when they learn about Claria's software, strongly recommend removing it. (A representative of Travelocity writes: "Because the Gator software is embedded in the other application, you usually have no idea that they you may have downloaded this 'junkware.' ... I think the best course of action for you to take is to: Click on Start, conduct a search for the keyword Gator. If found select the Gator.exe program and delete it.") Furthermore, some current Claria advertisers report the possibility of discontinuing use of such services. ( "We are currently reviewing our relationship with Gator. ... we do appreciate the feedback and are looking into our current relationship with that advertising source.")

A few advertisers apparently have placed advertisements with Claria or WhenU accidentally -- through an advertisement placement service, without authorization from relevant decision-makers, and/or without a full understanding of these companies' services. For example, the New York Times apparently briefly ran ads on Gator. However, the Times' use of Gator did not preclude the issuance of a 2002 preliminary injunction enjoining Gator from targeting the New York Times with popup advertisements. (See case documents.)


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My interest in spyware originally arose in part from a prior consulting engagement in which I served as an expert to parties adverse to Gator in litigation. See Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Company, LLC, et al. v. the Gator Corporation. More recently, I have served as an expert or consultant to other parties adverse to spyware companies in litigation or contemplated litigation, including companies adverse to WhenU.

This page is my own work - created on my own, without approval by any client, without payment from any client.

Last Updated: July 1, 2004 - Sign up for notification of major updates and related work.