Survey Says: Gator Users Didn’t Know

Since September 2003, PC Pitstop has been conducting a survey of users who have Gator or GAIN (Gator Advertising Information Network) applications installed on their PC. Our goal was to determine how much permission had really been granted to “permission based marketing” companies by users who install applications such as Gator’s.

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The results of our survey are in sharp contrast with the assertions of Gator and similar companies that say users know they are installing the product and agree to its license. We found that most users don’t even know they installed Gator, and only a single-digit percentage of users have read the license thoroughly enough to have good sense of their legal responsibilities and liabilities.

The Survey

PC Pitstop’s survey was intentionally kept simple to increase user participation. PC Pitstop’s full tests scanned for two GAIN files, CMESYS.EXE or GMT.EXE to see if GAIN was active on the system. If it detected that GAIN was running, the user received the following survey:

We have detected one or more programs installed on your PC that were created by the Gator Corporation and are using the GAIN ad network. These programs display advertising based on the web sites you visit. Which of the following matches your Gator installation experience?

  • I do not recall installing any Gator or GAIN application.
  • I did not read the Gator license agreement.
  • I spent five minutes or less reading the Gator license.
  • I spent five to fifteen minutes reading the Gator license.
  • I spent more than fifteen minutes reading the Gator license.

This survey was only presented once for each configuration where GAIN was detected. Subsequent tests of the same computer configuration did not require the user to answer the survey again, even if GAIN was still installed on the system.

During the month of October, PC Pitstop collected responses on 7,260 computers where we detected Gator and presented the user with the survey shown above. Most surveys of this nature collect between 600-700 data points with an accuracy of +/- 5%. We decided to collect more data points to substantially increase the statistical validity of our results.

The Results

PC Pitstop Gator Survey Results

The results are shown at right. Clearly, the results of this survey have a strong message. Users are not even aware of Gator or GAIN being on their system, much less aware of the terms they have supposedly accepted by installing this software. These results undercut the arguments that Gator has used to defend its business practices:

  • A Forbes article from April 2003 said “In court papers, Gator indicated that only 16% of the users it surveyed were unaware that Gator had been installed on their computer.” PC Pitstop’s survey shows a very different picture; more than four times that percentage could not recall installing Gator or GAIN application.
  • Gator asserts that users give it permission to show ads and send back data based on the license they accept when they install GAIN applications. Yet more than 89% of the Gator users we surveyed had not read Gator’s license at all; fewer than 3% percent read this 6,000-plus-word legal document for five minutes or longer.
  • Most people read at a rate of less than 300 words per minute for average text. At that rate, it would take 20 minutes to fully read Gator’s license. Even assuming something close to that reading rate–unlikely with dense legalese such as this–at best only about one percent of the people we surveyed had fully read the Gator license.

What does this mean?

Scott Eagle, the Chief Marketing Officer at Gator (now Claria), was quoted in a CNET article as saying, “We explain it’s the consumers’ right because we’re invited onto the desktop.”

Mr. Eagle is taking the position that consumers have the right to run whatever programs they like on their computers, and furthermore to display alternate ads while surfing the web. We support that right as well, but the fundamental question is Mr. Eagle’s assertion that users have “invited” Gator to install is indeed correct. Our survey results dispute his claim, and indicate that the opposite could be true.

Scott Eagle’s comment is pivotal to Gator’s position. Does Gator still have the right to show ads on a users PC if the user is unaware that the software is installed? These are issues that will be decided in a court of law, but it is intriguing to think that one of Gator’s key assertions may be fallacious.

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