I’ve had enough of Norton spam

I’ve gone back to using Microsoft Defender to keep me safe without hassle

For many years I used the free version of antivirus products. It is a perfectly legitimate business model to offer a product for free and use that product to entice the user to upgrade to a paid product offering more functionality. However, there were two reasons that I stopped using free antivirus products:

  • The enticements, adverts, and come-ons became more irritatingly intrusive.
  • Some of the marketing methods of some of the free antivirus products increasingly crossed lines of what I consider acceptable (eg using red buttons that you don’t want the user to click on, and green ones that you do want them to click on).

Microsoft Defender - logoSo, I decided to try Microsoft’s own Windows Defender (since renamed Microsoft Defender). For somewhere up to two years I had no problems whatever. Defender just quietly got on with the job. It didn’t try to up-sell me. It didn’t try to frighten me with scary popups about what a dangerous world it is out there or how clever it had been in saving me from digital disaster. In fact, it didn’t do anything except what it was supposed to do.

Then one day I succumbed to a marketing ploy of Norton / PC World and bought a subscription for Norton antivirus covering five machines for a very small sum of about £15. My reasoning was that it might be a good idea to keep abreast of what a premium antivirus product offered and how to use it. It was a pain to set up so that it didn’t keep sending un-necessary notifications, and you have to find out how to turn off “autorenewal” if you don’t want a really nasty shock of a big bill a year later. But, it did the job. It didn’t let anything nasty through onto any of my machines. The next year I hunted out a similar offer in PC World.

Norton popup
Figure 1. An unwanted “service notification” from Norton
What has changed recently, though, is that they keep popping up notifications that I can’t stop. See figure 1 as an example. One of the expectations we have of antivirus software these days is that it should be on the lookout for saving us from unwanted popup message and from “PUPs”. These are “potentially unwanted programs” – ie they are not viruses as such, but (amongst other egregious behaviour) they may hassle us and try and sell us things. What I find totally unacceptable is that Norton is indulging in some of the very bad practices from which they are supposed to be protecting us. This is not just me having another Victor Meldrew moment. When I did some googling to see if it was possible to stop these notifications I found plenty of people enduring the same frustrations and with the same level of indignation as me.

Norton motorbike
No, not that sort of Norton
What is more, I know that this practice of Norton has caused at least one of my clients stress and difficulties recently. She was besieged by such popups and did not understand what Norton were trying to persuade her to do, why, or whether there would be an extra cost. One of the things she was being badgered into was using a VPN (as per figure 1). Now VPNs undoubtedly have a use, but they can cause several types of problems, and trying to frighten users into installing one without understanding the ramifications is irresponsible and more akin to the behaviour of malware than its prevention.

Shame on you, Norton. I say that with sadness as I am someone who has been around PCs long enough to remember just how invaluable Norton Utilities used to be in the pre-Windows DOS days.

For some other opinions on how Microsoft Defender stacks up against other antivirus programs, have a look at these:

NY Times Wirecutter