Long-term computer support clients of mine may know that I used to recommend AVG’s free antivirus program, but that I eventually stopped doing that because I didn’t like their tactics in “persuading” (misleading?) users to install trial versions of their paid product when the user had been trying to install (or update) the free version. The sort of things they would do included displaying red buttons for actions they didn’t want you to take and green ones for actions that they did want you to take.
Now they’ve hit upon a new way of monetising their supposedly free product: they will sell the search and browsing history of their users. Some people may think “so what, it’s still a good deal?” but others, including Alexander Hanff, CEO of Think Privacy, think that this puts AVG “squarely into the category of spyware”. Hanff argues that antivirus software enjoys a trusted and privileged position in our computers in that it can get at parts of the system denied to most software and we trust it to combat virsues, malware, spyware, and the like. For its publishers to sell its users confidential data in this way constitutes a massive betrayal of that trust.
“Why do you collect my data? We use data to improve our products and services; provide support; send notifications, offers, and promotions; and to make money from our free offerings with non-personal data.”
Surely it’s an oxymoron for them to say “…..to make money from our free offerings…..” It’s either free or it isn’t. If you’re selling my data then I’m paying a price: it isn’t free.
Some have said that AVG deserve praise for their honesty. PC World Magazine’s website says, for instance, “AVG at least deserves credit for helping users make informed decisions”. Maybe they do, but just because someone admits to doing something dubious, that doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to continue doing it.
I do realise that what I am going to say next probably displays a world-weary cynicism that not everyone will share, but I’m going to say it anyway:
We live in a world where a huge global enterprise (Volkswagen) appear to have been cynically and intentionally cheating on the whole world. Before the recent scandal broke, who would have thought them capable of such breathtaking dishonesty for their own ends? Now consider that this very same world is also inhabited by an organisation (AVG) whose avowed purpose is to keep us safe from the digital scumbags, thieves and con-artists that inhabit cyberspace. If AVG now admit that they are going to make money from their “free” product by selling our data, are we really naive enough to believe that we can trust them in all the other things that they do, deep in the bowels of our computers?
Volkswagen and AVG are completely different computers, but in a world that includes Volkswagen, I’m certainly not going to continue to trust AVG to look after my digital privacy and security – not now that they have more-or-less admitted that they are gamekeepers turned poachers (while still claiming to be doing their gamekeeper’s job).