Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) coveting the lucrative fortunes of online advertising that have been enjoyed by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)? Right, that's a given. With that in mind, today's rumors that Microsoft is looking with interest at the possibility of purchasing an Internet marketing firm are certainly not surprising, but when it comes to today's rumor that it's eyeing Claria, some might well wonder what Microsoft's thinking.

The purchase of Claria would be one that some people might not be so happy about. Claria has suffered its fair share of controversy. At one time, when it was known under the moniker of Gator Corp., it was a culprit in delivering some of those pop-up ads that Web surfers have come to despise. (Not to mention, some pop-ups have contributed to problems with viruses and other such computer intrusions.)

Claria still suffers some degree of controversy and scandal because it deals in what is known as adware. It's not quite as insidious as spyware, but some argue that it's close. Adware has the rather unappealing reputation of luring consumers to download programs that deliver advertising -- and sometimes the folks don't realize that they have downloaded a program that tracks their online behavior for the purposes of serving up such ads.

Mix this in with the high-profile security problems that have dogged Microsoft's products, most notably the Internet Explorer browser -- and the fact that some of this was directly related to spyware is likely not lost on many consumers -- and it sounds like a possible recipe for some ill will should this acquisition come to pass.

As eager as Microsoft may be to play catch up with other companies that are enjoying the fruits of online advertising, like Google and fellow Internet giant, Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), the idea of Claria's rep sounds pretty unappealing on many levels. (Some of the chatty, tech-savvy masses on Slashdot like the theory that maybe Microsoft is buying the firm in part to stem the tide of pop-ups and adware -- as well as joking about embedding Claria's functionality in Longhorn.)

Fair or not, it's pretty much a given that Microsoft is so often the easy butt of criticism, given its ubiquity in technology as well as its highly publicized security issues over the last several years. It doesn't seem wise for it to make any moves that suggest it's lax on intrusive tactics. For now, let's hope this rumor stays a rumor -- a Microsoft hook-up with Claria sounds to me like a PR mess in the making.

Here's some more Foolish coverage of the Microsoft and Google tug-o'-war:

What do you think of these rumors? How can Microsoft get a bigger slice of the Internet online advertising pie? Would the acquisition of a company like Claria just give critics too much fodder? Talk to other Fools about this and other issues on our Microsoft discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.