Controversial ad-supported software player Claria, formerly known as Gator, has hired a chief privacy officer and VP of regulatory and consumer affairs.
D. Reed Freeman Jr., a former staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, will work internally on privacy practices and represent the firm before government agencies, businesses and consumers. Freeman’s appointment comes in the wake of Claria’s filing for an initial public offering in early April.
Freeman is well qualified for the job, privacy experts say, and he comes in at a time when there’s plenty of work to do. Privacy concerns have grown increasingly important to adware companies like Claria, as adware and spyware [define] have come under scrutiny from legislators and regulators at both the federal and state levels. Adware companies aren’t the only ones paying attention to the issue, either. Even companies like Yahoo, Google and eBay have expressed concern about how anti-spyware legislation might unintentionally curtail “everyday, legitimate activities” on the Internet.
The issue has come to the fore this week when the Federal Trade Commission hosted a workshop Monday.
“It is generally a good idea for these companies to engage the policymakers because if they don’t you see problems,” attorney Ray Everett-Church, chief privacy officer of TurnTide and founder of privacy organization the Committee Against Unsolicited E-mail. “CAN-SPAM imposes burdens on legitimate companies and the scofflaws thumb their noses. This is a set of legislative decisions that were made without the of the companies most directly affected by this law so these companies’ failure to engage in the political process has come home to roost.” (Everett-Church is serving as an expert witness in a suit against Claria bought by Hertz and several other plaintiffs.)
U.S. Sens. Conrad Burns and Barbara Boxer recently introduced legislation to prohibit spyware, adware and other intrusive software. The proposed act, known as SPYBLOCK, would make it illegal to install software on a user’s computer without notice and consent. The state of Utah recently passed its own anti-spyware statute, which is being challenged in court by Claria’s fellow adware firm WhenU.
Claria’s expected initial public offering means the company must also convince investors — i.e. the general public — that it’s doing the right thing.
“My guess is it will be positioned that, ‘We are going to do this to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect consumers’ privacy,'” said Anne Mitchell, executive director of the Institute for Spam and Public Policy. “Everyone wants people to think you’re doing this because you care so much about their privacy.”
One of Claria’s challenges is that the definition of the term “spyware” is a bit tricky. It generally refers to software programs that collect data about computer users and send that information back to the software maker over the Internet without a user’s knowledge. But adware companies such as Claria and WhenU claim to make it clear to consumers that their programs are being installed, and make it easy to uninstall them.
The decision to bring a privacy officer on board is reminiscent of an action taken by DoubleClick when that company was attacked for a later-abandoned plan to join consumers’ personally identifiable information with online cookie data. The major ad technology company hired Jules Polonetsky, now at America Online, as its privacy officer. DoubleClick also formed a privacy advisory board in 2002.
Claria’s newly-hired CPO formerly worked as a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm Collier Shannon Scott, PLLC. He is also an adjunct professor of advertising and privacy law at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia.
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