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How Did I Get Gator?
Our survey found that an astounding 74 percent of Gator users did not know that a Gator or GAIN application had been installed on their system, and an additional 15 percent had not read Gator's license agreement. Compare those results to Gator's assertion that users are "inviting" Gator onto their PC's. We decided to take a look at several ways in which Gator gets "invited" onto a PC, and whether the process may be confusing users into making an uninformed choice.
We've found three ways that Gator is often installed onto a system, and each has a high potential for users to misinterpret or overlook important information. As of mid-November 2003, Gator was still using all three of these techniques on web sites such as DivX.com, Slingo.com, and Uproar.com.
Gator buys advertising space for banners like this one. This particular ad promotes Gator's Precision Time utility, which keeps the system clock accurate by synchronizing it over the Internet. (From a technical perspective, it is very unlikely this ad knows whether the system clock is currently accurate.)
If you click on the ad, the screen at right appears. There are several issues in the design of this complex page that could cause problems and confusion for users. First, the ActiveX dialog box is always on top of the page and you must click Yes or No to dismiss it. Second, the download instructions are partially obscured by the ActiveX dialog. Finally, Gator's Privacy Statement and End-User License Agreement has been inconveniently placed below the visible area of this 1024x768-pixel window, making users scroll down the page to start reading the license. Why did Gator push down the license text when the natural thing to do would be to start the license directly under its heading? Given that the ActiveX dialog obscures a good deal of the screen, users that want to actually read the license will need to scroll the page and move the ActiveX dialog around the screen to see the parts of the screen with the license.
If you click No to the ActiveX dialog shown above, that isn't the end of Gator's attempt to install. Instead, Gator pops up another screen and another ActiveX dialog box. The largest and most visible text on the page asks the simple question, "Are you sure you don't want free Precision Time and Date Manager utilities?" If you have already said you didn't want them on the first page, the natural answer to that question is "Yes, I am sure". However, although the prominent text at the top of the page elicits a Yes answer in your mind, you must actually click No to decline the ActiveX download. This is extremely confusing, and the potential exists that some users may have inadvertently given the wrong answer and "invited" Gator onto their PC. (Also notice that this page lacks the license text, although it could still be accessed by clicking on the link in the ActiveX dialog.)
Of the three techniques examined here, we believe that this one gives users the least amount of information and the highest chance for mistakes. When going to a site, and usually before you can begin reading the page, an ActiveX dialog box pops over the page in what is known as a "drive-by download." As with the first method shown above, the ActiveX box is "always on top" of the web page, so you are unable to see the entire page until you click either Yes or No. In most cases, no explanation is presented to the purpose of the box, so it is easy for you to think it is required to view the web site you are visiting. It is just as possible that busy people might erroneously click Yes just to get on with their web surfing. This is particularly true on sites where the dialog may pop up many times as you browse from page to page on the site; each page provides another opportunity for an errant click.
GAIN Bundled with SoftwareIn addition to its own "free" applications, Gator provides GAIN to other software makers who bundle it into their downloads. One example of this is DivX Networks' DivX Pro. On the DivX Networks download page, the free version of their DivX Pro software is noted to be "Ad supported" and the setup process mentions "adware". However, no mention is made on the download page that the adware to be installed is GAIN from the Gator Corporation. The installation process doesn't mention GAIN or show the Gator license until several steps into the setup, at which point many users may be blithely clicking "Next" to every screen that appears. Is it possible that people are not aware of this bundling practice and the license terms it can impose, don't read the licenses carefully, and inadvertently "invite" Gator onto their PC?
After examining Gator's installation techniques and seeing the results of our survey, we believe there are several scenarios where users who do not want Gator may accidentally install it. In addition, the design of Gator's installation methods and the results of our survey seem to indicate that Gator is not providing adequate opportunities for users to conveniently review and knowingly accept Gator's terms and conditions. This would seem to contradict Gator's claim that most users are inviting Gator software on to their PC.