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Microsoft Tries to Dig Itself Out of Spyware Controversy

At the end of June, rumors suggested that Microsoft was close to purchasing Claria, the spyware company previously called Gator. You read that right: Claria makes spyware, not antispyware, software. Then, last week, reports circulated that an update to Microsoft's Windows AntiSpyware beta no longer flagged spyware from Claria, fueling the rumor mill further. This week, finally, Microsoft is fighting back.

If you're not familiar with Gator/Claria, its big claim to fame is a technology Claria calls "behavioral marketing." In short, the company has devised a way to deliver personalized advertising by secretly installing software on their machines that monitors their Web surfing habits. It doesn't exactly sound like the kind of company Microsoft would want to do business with, let alone purchase.

But Claria's technology would give Microsoft's MSN division a leg up in the growing market for personalized Web experiences. According to the rumors, there are those at Microsoft who oppose the Claria purchase, but there are strong supporters as well.

When reports last week suggested that an update to Windows AntiSpyware was ignoring Claria spyware, the software giant finally responded. In a letter to customers, Microsoft writes that Windows AntiSpyware continues to detect Claria spyware. "We take software analysis for Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) very seriously," the letter reads. "All software is reviewed under the same objective criteria, detection policies, and analysis process. Absolutely no exceptions were made for Claria. Windows AntiSpyware (Beta) continues to notify our users when Claria software is found on a computer, and it offers our users the option to remove the software if they desire ... We firmly believe that people should have complete control over what runs on their computers." The full text of Microsoft's letter to customers can be found at the URL below.

While the letter addresses the alleged behavior change in Windows AntiSpyware, Microsoft has still refused to comment on rumors that the company is pursuing a purchase of Claria. This has led to further rumors--naturally--that the company is, indeed, attempting to buy Claria.

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