Claria (nee Gator)Leading adware manufacturer Claria (formerly known as Gator) announced today that computer security software maker McAfee has rescinded its January 2005 declaration that Claria’s GAIN adware/spyware was a “malicious threat.”

In yet another triumph of semantics over substance, McAfee appears to have succumbed to Claria’s Jedi Mind Trick, wherein company representatives get their targets to repeat the language of Claria’s privacy policies, hoping they fail to notice the surreptitious installation of software under people’s noses.

The reason why McAfee listed Claria’s GAIN software as malicious is no mystery: almost no one ever asks to have Claria’s software installed on their computer, yet it somehow finds its way on there, without the user’s explicit knowledge or consent, generating unwanted pop-up ads, hogging memory, and generally making the day-to-day lives of its hapless victims more miserable.

Claria insists that the installation of its software is clearly disclosed, and that people are always fully aware when, and why, the software is being installed. Claria’s representatives and PR flacks will dutifully point to page four, sub-section 27(a), of the End User License Agreement — those long screens of gobbledygook that nobody reads when they install software — in which the presence and functions of the GAIN software are generally disclosed.

Never mind, of course, the extensive evidence that thousands (maybe even millions) of consumers haven’t asked for Claria’s software to be installed on their computers. Never mind the evidence of malicious “drive-by” downloading by Claria’s paid “affiliates.” And never mind the fact that, for many hapless users, Claria’s software remains difficult to detect, identify, and remove.

So why did McAfee change its position? It could be that Claria threatened another lawsuit, such as the one it launched to censor PC Pitstop’s criticisms. Indeed, litigation is not new for Claria.

Some readers may be familiar with my work as an expert witness against Claria in a collection of nearly a dozen lawsuits that were consolidated into one massive multidistrict case. Claria managed to buy its way out of most of those suits, leaving unresolved the fundamental issues raised in the cases. Unfortunately, much of my work in that case is still covered by a court-imposed protective order, so I can’t write about all the juicy details I learned during that case. Suffice to say, I was not surprised that Claria went to great lengths to make those suits go away quietly.

But Claria has taken a recent turn away from litigation that suggest a new-found preference for pumping sweetness and light, instead of the usual brimstone and bullshit. Beginning with the hiring of my old acquantance Reed Freeman as Chief Privacy Officer in April of 2004, Claria has continued to wage a masterful campaign to rehabilitate its reputation.

That reputation, which had been qualitatively equivalent to the foul-smelling muck in which its former swamp-dwelling namesake preferred to remain submerged, could only have improved. Thus, through the deft usage of political connections, and the liberal use of cold, hard cash, Claria is on its way to being even more highly regarded than MCI (nee Worldcom), Altria (nee Phillip Morris), and even Mary Mallon (you’re on your own for that one… ;-) ).

As a measure of success, Reed Freeman was recently appointed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s privacy advisory board. Claria also continues to get mileage out of its recent appointment of a self-styled “dream team” of “privacy, security, public policy and consumer protection law experts” to assist its PR white-washing efforts.

Claria’s not the only company buying a squeegee to scrape the crap off its reputation. Others in the same line of business — namely, the business of causing ads to pop-up on people’s computers whether they’re wanted or not — have followed similar courses and are successfully insinuating themselves into the corporate and public policy mainstream. Just recently, spyware maker 180 Solutions joined as Silver Sponsor of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

Claria has earned a well-deserved negative perception in the minds of those consumers whose Internet experience has been made more problematic by Claria’s troublesome software. But through obfuscation and glad-handing, they will slowly continue to recast the company’s image. And now McAfee’s software will help, through the cunning usage of namby-pamby language that will make it more difficult for McAfee users to understand the problems that Claria’s pop-up ad software can pose.

But all the PR whitewashing cannot change the underlying facts: Claria’s software remains a scourge for too many unsuspecting users. As I continue to say: there are two kinds of people — those who hate adware and spyware, and those who will. It’s only a matter of time.