UPS Joins Anti-Gator Fray

  |  October 2, 2002   |  Comments

The shipper has slapped the controversial pop-up ad firm with its latest lawsuit.

United Parcel Service is joining a long list of plaintiffs in suing Gator Corp. over its online advertising practices.

The Atlanta-based shipping giant is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction prohibiting Gator from delivering pop-up ads to users of its software.

Gator, based in Redwood City, Calif., provides time-management and "digital wallet" software that also delivers pop-up ads based on the site that a user is viewing. One of the firm's pitches to advertisers centers around using the service as a competitive tool -- so that an advertiser's special offer could appear when a consumer visits a rival's Web site.

That practice served as the touching-off point for the UPS lawsuit, according to sources close to the case. Gator's software has been delivering ads to UPS.com visitors, promoting products and services not affiliated with the shipper -- including advertisements for competitor FedEx.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, charges that Gator falsely represents the origin of the ads, causing confusion in consumers' minds.

Spokespeople from UPS confirmed the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit but declined further comment, saying that the company had just entered into discussions with Gator after filing the suit.

Added a Gator spokesperson, "We are talking to the other side about all the relevant facts and issues." The firm also declined to comment further.

It's the first time that Gator itself has been sued specifically over delivering ads for rival Web sites -- although at least one of its clients has found itself in hot water for the practice. In June, Weight Watchers won a lawsuit against DietWatch.com, which had been buying Gator ads that appeared when users visited its rival's Web site.

In late 2001, retailer L.L. Bean threatened action with a "cease and desist" letter, warning Gator to stop serving ads for a competitor to llbean.com visitors. That action has since prompted two lawsuits by Gator against the Freeport, Maine-based retailer. The cases are still pending.

UPS' complaint also comes as Gator is fighting broader charges brought against it in June. At that time, a number of big-name Web publishers banded together in a suit alleging that Gator's practices hijacked traffic to their sites and infringed their copyrights.

The publishers -- Washington Post Co. , The New York Times Co. , Dow Jones & Co. , and Gannett , among others -- demanded that Gator cease serving pop-up ads and return profits to the sites on which the ads appeared.

Last year, lawyers for the New York-based Interactive Advertising Bureau -- which includes many of the plaintiffs -- began exploring whether to ask for government regulatory action against the firm, due to a new Gator product that replaced publishers' ad units with its own.

After trading blows in the media -- and a suit by Gator charging the IAB with "unfounded accusations" -- the two parties announced their intention to postpone legal action in favor of working to create mutually-beneficial advertising units. As of yet, little has come out of the initiative.

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