Open Letter to Thomas Cook and Oyster Partners

Today I read that Thomas Cook has begun an online ad campaign that includes advertising on Claria’s GAIN ad network. I wanted to make Oyster Partners and Thomas Cook aware that there may be negative aspects to associating their brands with Claria and its GAIN network. Although Claria claims that its users have opted into the GAIN network, our own research shows that most users do not even know the software is installed on their system. A survey of users commissioned by StaySafeOnline showed similar negative feelings about products such as Claria’s. Other researchers have found that Claria/GAIN uses
misleading installation and disclosure practices.

Although Claria might try to discredit this independent research, Claria’s own information on uninstall rates shows that it is far from popular with users that find it has been installed:

“The uninstall rate for the behavior-tracking and ad-delivery software from Claria Corp., based in Redwood City, Calif., is about the same. The company claims access to 45 million computers in its Gator Advertising Information Network, but acknowledges that its software has been removed 155 million times over the past five years.”

The proliferation of adware such as Claria’s can often make a computer unstable and slow. For example, Claria’s products are bundled with Kazaa peer-to-peer file sharing software. In recently published internal company documents, Kazaa’s chief technology officer says that
Kazaa’s bundled adware makes systems slow and their own staff hates installing it. Do you want your brands associated with that kind of reputation?

After reviewing the information above, I hope that you will reconsider your involvement with Claria, WhenU, 180Solutions or any simlar adware networks. I don’t believe they are in your best interests, or those of your potential customers.

The letter above was emailed on February 7, 2005 to Thomas Cook’s press contact address. On February 23, PC Pitstop received a reply from Oyster Partners:

I have been forwarded your open letter regarding Thomas Cook from a number of your members as I am the Director at Oyster partners responsible for the account. I should clarify our role – Oyster Partners is the web design and creative agency for Thomas Cook, we are only involved in the design of their site and the creative for the online advertising. We are not involved in any way with their media programme or the choice of technologies they use for ad serving and tracking. We have no information on or involvement in any use of Claria technologies.

For your information, their media agency in the UK is Quantum Media and I believe they make the strategic recommendations in this area and would be more able and better informed to respond to your concerns.

Oyster is aware of the mounting issues surrounding spyware and I can assure you we are most diligent to advise our clients of the issues and the associated implications under the Data Protection Act (the European legislative framework for this issue). Could you please make you members aware and publish this clarification of our role as I am unable to help with their concerns on the issue.

Deborah Keay

I thank Deborah Keay and Oyster Partners for taking the time to reply and clarify their relationship with Thomas Cook. If you are a customer or potential customer of Thomas Cook, and believe they should not use adware networks such as Claria’s, contact them. You may also want to make your preferences known to Quantum Media, or post a message on our forums.

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