If you’re one of the many users of AVG’s free anti-virus product you’re hopefully aware that, from 15 October 2015, the company will be able to sell your web browsing and search history to third-party advertising companies.
At the time of writing that’s just over a week away. Consider yourself warned.
We collect non-personal data to make money from our free offerings so we can keep them free, including:
- Advertising ID associated with your device;
- Browsing and search history, including meta data;
- Internet service provider or mobile network you use to connect to our products; and
- Information regarding other applications you may have on your device and how they are used.
Sometimes browsing history or search history contains terms that might identify you. If we become aware that part of your browsing history might identify you, we will treat that portion of your history as personal data, and will anonymize this information. We may also aggregate and/or anonymize personal data we collect about you.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Advertisers aren’t interested in data which can’t help them target you. If they really didn’t feel it could help them identify potential customers then the data wouldn’t have any value, and they wouldn’t be interested in paying AVG to access it.
Furthermore, it’s surprising just how much you can learn about someone from their browsing and searching history, even if attempts have been made to anonymise it.
As Kurt Opsahl of the EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation) presented in January 2014, it’s staggering just how much can be inferred from metadata.
AVG says that you will be able to turn off the information-sharing if you don’t approve. But, of course, they’re relying on users not doing that. It’s the same method many other technology companies have made over the years to get their users to accept changes - if they’re unlikely to opt in to something, require them to opt out.
I’m not against the idea of AVG earning some revenue from its hard work and the cost of delivering a free anti-virus to millions of people around the world. I just dislike the idea of users unwittingly accepting a change to their privacy, without making an informed decision.
Wouldn’t it be better if AVG made *new* users of their free product consent to sharing of their internet activity to advertising companies, and gave existing users the *option* of joining in with the data-sharing if they liked the idea?
If you dislike security companies selling your data up the river like this (maybe others are doing something similar, and it’s not just AVG) then your best bet may be to buy your anti-virus rather than use a freebie.
After all, at least then they have a reason to treat you with respect, because if they lose your favour you can hurt them in the wallet.