IAB's Anti-Gator Arguments Are Weak

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Though Gator's business model offers material for ethical debate, there are major holes in the Interactive Advertising Bureau's and other critics' arguments against its ad serving techniques.


Launched in 1999, Redwood City, CA-based Gator's first product was a virtual "smart companion" that automatically fills out order forms and speeds shoppers through online checkouts.


It since has created software to be used in conjunction with the form filler that displays online ads. And here is where the problems begin:


*A person who is visiting an e-commerce site might receive a pop-up ad for a competitor.


*Gator apparently can also paste ads on top of banner ads.


According to the IAB, though users opt in to the company's services, the way the ads are served may infringe on the trademark, copyright and intellectual property rights of Web publishers and advertisers.


"Consumers who choose to use the Gator.com software for various services may not be aware that in return for these services, they are allowing Gator.com to cover up advertising sold by the Web site with advertising sold by Gator.com. The consumer has not replaced the advertising by him or herself. Gator.com has done it, and is thus presenting a false and misleading business relationship between the sites and the substituted advertisers," IAB president/CEO Robin Webster said.


"In effect, Gator.com is falsely implying relationships that do not exist. Publishers and advertisers who have chosen to be associated with one another are having those relationships damaged and are suffering grave financial harm by losing business opportunities. Consumers are similarly being deceived by the company and are being denied the full experience of the Web sites as intended by the publishers."


Hard to buy that one. For one thing, computer users themselves install this stuff. And it says right on the company's home page that Gator "Let's you compare prices while you shop online! ... comes with OfferCompanion -- both products deliver special deals and information based on the Web sites you visit."


Seems pretty clear to me.


Another anti-Gator argument compares the technology to intercepting a magazine in mid-mailing and gluing a new ad over the back page.


But in the case of magazines, publishers and their advertisers have paid for everything from content creation to delivery of the product.


On the Web, the publisher doesn't own the computer, or the browser for that matter, and frankly, users have every right to paste any ad or other symbol on their monitors that they please.


Yes, reporters and editors aren't cheap -- OK, right now we're cheap, but we're not free -- and content must be supported somehow.


But people often use their computers for more than one thing at a time, minimizing one function while maximizing another. And just because a computer's browser happens to be on a certain site doesn't mean that the site's publisher owns the screen. Otherwise, maybe we should eliminate screen-within-a-screen technology on our televisions.


Sports fans would love us for that.


Not to sound like a 1999 new-economy marketing blowhard, but the user really is in charge here. And if users want offers delivered via a Gator-like service, they'll continue to get them, if not from Gator, from somewhere else. This ain't Napster, where users are arguably stealing intellectual property.


Instead of fighting innovations like that of Gator, maybe groups like the IAB should be figuring out what about them is working and how other online advertisers can exploit similar tactics.


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