Investopedia / Julie Bang

What Was Gator?

The term Gator refers to a type of adware or software that displayed or downloaded advertising automatically onto a person's computer. Gator was one of the first and most contentious open-source adware systems because of how difficult it was to remove. The software was developed by Gator Corporation which later changed its name to Claria Corporation.

The company was founded in 1998 and was based in Redwood City, California. The company shut down in 2008, two years after it left the adware industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Gator was a type of adware that displayed or downloaded advertising automatically on a person's computer.
  • The software was developed by Gator Corporation, which later changed its name to Claria Corporation.
  • Gator adware tracked user browsing habits and silently downloaded its software, taking up valuable space and memory on people's computers.
  • Although users were able to uninstall the software, it was often difficult to do so.
  • The company stopped producing adware in 2006 and shut down in 2008.
  • Today, many prominent companies such as Meta (formerly Facebook) are coming under fire for mining user data for the sole purpose of creating targeted ads as their primary source of revenue.

Understanding Gator

Gator was one of the first companies to promote adware and the widespread use of online behavioral marketing to target users with display ads. The company was founded in 1998 in Redwood City, California, by Denis Coleman, Mark Pennell, and Sasha Zorovic. As mentioned above, the company changed its name from Gator to Claria Corporation and stopped producing adware in 2006. The company shut down its doors in 2008.

The company's software, which was called Gator—and was also known as Gain AdServer—was installed on tens of millions of computers around the world. It was often touted as being harmless. But it acted just like a computer virus, downloading updates to a user's computer along with other kinds of adware.

Gator adware tracked an online user's browsing habits and also silently downloaded its software onto people's computers. It also worked by asking users whether they wanted to save internet searches using the company's tools, which, in turn, would lead to more ads. All of this created significant problems for many users because Gator often took up a lot of space on a computer's hard drive, eroding a user's available memory.

Users were allowed to remove the software, through the uninstall button. But that often proved to be cumbersome because some components of the software may have remained on the system.


Adware or advertising-supported software is a form of pop-up internet and digital advertising. Companies use adware to generate revenue through ads on users' computers and other electronic devices.

Adware is generally triggered by Internet search results, user data collected for marketing purposes, and the installation of different software programs and applications. Adware commonly shows up in the form of pop-ups, banner ads, full-screen ads, or videos. So if someone wants to purchase cowboy boots and does a search on their computer, adware uses this data to target the individual with related ads.

Make sure you have an anti-spyware program installed on your computer and run regular scans to rid yourself of adware, malicious software, and viruses.

Keeping a system free from adware like Gator required taking the system to a computer specialist or the use of an anti-spyware program. Users often need to run regular scans of their systems to ensure that every bit of the adware software, along with other malware, ransomware, other malicious software, and viruses are removed.

Special Considerations

Some of the most common sites that used Gator adware and software installations included Limewire, eWallet, and KaZaa. But not every site online actually used Gator legitimately. In fact, the company came under fire for bypassing the ad-supported models that many Internet publishers used.

Here's how it did it. Let's say someone who regularly checks the headlines on their local newspaper's website had the Gator adware installed on their computer. Whenever they logged onto the site, Gator would replace that company's banner ads and pop-ups with its own. This allowed Gator to pinch revenues from the originating content provider.

Article Sources
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  1. Tech Talk. "The History of Adware." Accessed March 23, 2021.