AVG has re-worded its privacy policy, confirming that it will sell your browsing and search history

AVG LogoLong-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.

PirateAVG don’t seem to be too shy about this in their current privacy policy. They quite openly say:

“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:

Selling Out

Could this be AVG’s new motto?

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).

It’s three whole years since I started writing this weekly blog for my computer support clients (and anyone else who may stumble upon it)

3yearSo, I thought I’d have a look back over the last year and see what’s changed and what hasn’t…

In December of last year I got my hands on the iPad Mini. This has now become my favourite piece of computer hardware of all time. Using it with the matching Logitech keyboard, I can do real work away from home without lugging a “proper” computer around. And the latest bit of fun I’ve discovered is to use it as a remote control for the iTunes music collection hosted by my Mac Mini. When they release a version of the iPad that makes a decent cup of coffee, it will be nearly perfect.

Also in December, I started warning about Microsoft’s decision to stop supporting Windows XP and Office 2003 after April 2014. They haven’t changed their minds and nor are they likely to! It’s just possible that these products won’t become irresistible targets for virus attacks after April 2014, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Microsoft Surface

The Microsoft Surface

In January I was starting to think about buying a Microsoft Surface. This is the very light netbook/tablet that runs a “cut down” version of Windows 8. In the 10 months since then I’ve only had one person even mention them to me and I haven’t seen one in the flesh outside of Peter Jones in Sloane Square. Looks as if Microsoft may have mis-calculated with this product. Certainly, I don’t think it likely that I’m going to have to buy one any time soon in order to keep up with what my clients are interested in.

In February I had a whinge about websites cleverly leading us to make the choices they would prefer us to make, rather than the choices we set out to make. No change there, then. AVG, for instance, are still offering us an orange button to choose the free version of their antivirus program and a green button for the paid one. It’s all very well saying “I’m too intelligent to be led down the wrong path by such tricks“, but this type of practice must work or they wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a piece of cake for them to test the results of a web page that includes such dubious tactics against another that doesn’t. It’s not just AVG doing this, of course.

In April I was still predicting the demise of the computer fair that takes place in the Student Union of London University on a Saturday. I’m happy to report that, so far, I’m wrong. It’s still holding on. I’d much rather pay £2 for a cable at the fair than £10 for the same cable in PC World or wherever. If the nerd in you feels like braving it, just follow the directions on the black and orange placards to be seen along the length of Tottenham Court Road on a Saturday.

Evernote ItemsI gave Evernote several plugs during the year. I find the interface a bit quirky at times, and this is made more complicated by the different interfaces for Mac OSX, Mac IOS, Windows, and Android. And is it just my imagination, or do they keep changing things? Nevertheless, I find Evernote to be robust, useable, and ever more useful as I pour more and more data into it. After just a few months, I wouldn’t want to try and do without it.

In June I had a lefty rant about the government spying on us. At that time the Conservative half (3/4?) of government still wanted to enact the Snooper’s Charter, but Nick Clegg was talking as if he’d got a backbone by saying it wouldn’t happen while he’s still in government (make the most of it, Nick – not much longer now). Anyway, the issue is still definitely alive. As the Guardian put it recently, ” The Home Office’s head of counter-terrorism has revived his fight to secure the return of the “snooper’s charter” legislation”.

And what’s around the corner for the next twelve months? I’ve no idea.

And what would I like in the next twelve months? Well, I do wish the date for fibre optic broadband in my area would stop slipping back. As I see more and more of my clients’ connections delivering really fast download speeds I do rather envy them. I dare say there are plenty of people outside the M25 who would be glad of the 6mbit per sec that manages to get south of the river to SW4, but it still seems slow to me a lot of the time.

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned for year four!

“Recommended”, “Maybe”, and “Time for Something New”

Anyjunk

Not so long ago, I blogged about the pile of redundant and knackered stuff that has been sitting in my flat for months. I stopped driving many years ago, so I couldn’t just take this to the nearest proper place myself, and I didn’t want to presume on friendships to get it done. So I had to find a commercial solution. Well, it’s done and I’m happy to recommend the company – Anyjunk – who took it all away. They charge by volume, with the minimum being 1 cubic yard (but, no, they don’t charge in groats or £sd). They gave an estimate over the phone and we agreed a final price when they arrived.

AnyJunk logoThe final pile was a bit smaller than the one featured in my blog a few weeks ago, but it’s still a reasonable guide as to their prices. The total cost was £120. The two guys who took it away were friendly, efficent, and didn’t huff and puff about climbing up and down 53 steep stairs several times. So, Anyjunk might work out too expensive for just a few items, but if you’ve got a load to get rid of, then have a look at their website.

AVG Mis-direction

The AVG logoI used to recommend AVG Free antivirus software, but became too embarrassed at the number of my clients who fell into the many traps set by AVG to “encourage” their users to trade up from the free version to the paid one. Well, I know they’ve got a lot better, but they’re still not completely squeaky clean. I have AVG Free on my netbook and the box displayed here in Figure 1 popped up today.

AVG Program Update - figure 1

Figure 1 – AVG tell me they need to update my free program

“Here we go again”, I thought, “I’m ready for you this time, watching your every step”. So, I clicked the “update now” button. Then up pops Figure 2. I won’t go banging on again about all the nice friendly green ticks in the column they want you to go for. Suffice to say that they have put a little dot against “Ultimate Protection” at the bottom of this column. If you just click the “Next” button then you will install a trial version of the paid product. In order to update your Free product to the latest version of the Free product, click on the dot inside the red elipse I’ve put on Figure 2 and then click the “Next” button.

AVG Program Update - figure 2

Figure 2 – you must click the button in my red elipse if you want to update your existing, free, program.

Then all will be well. In fairness to AVG, they have definitely made things simpler than before. There is now only this one trap you can fall into, and if you do accidentally install a trial copy of the paid version then uninstalling it (using the standard Windows method) will prompt AVG to offer to install the free product you wanted all the time. Sharp as knives, aren’t they? Let’s hope they stay as good at antivirus protection.

Microsoft OneNote vs Evernote

Why don’t Microsoft make much fuss about their note-taking/organising software, OneNote, that is part of all the Office versions? Perhaps they don’t think very much of it. I’ve finally given up on it altogether. It’s just too tedious and idiosyncratic in how it organises the blocks of text on a page. That may sound like a minor gripe. If you think so, I challenge you to try it. It’s infuriating.

The Evernote logoSo, I have had another look at Evernote. This seems to be the only other serious program around for organising all the disparate parts of your digital life. Everything from note-taking, to picture embedding, to voice-notes, web pages. I’m sure I haven’t yet found just how much it will do, but I’m delighted by what I keep finding and I’m writing this blog on my Windows 8 PC using it now. If I want to look really cool, I can take my iPad Mini (with its Logitech keyboard, of course) and do some more work on the blog somewhere more public than my own flat.

That’s because it’ll work on all devices and the data is in the cloud, so I can get at it anywhere that my iPad has either a 3G or WiFi connection. I was initially put off Evernote as I thought it was “cloud only”. Not true: I am confident that I have a backup on my PC in a place of my choosing. I am contemplating taking out a subscription so that I can also work on my iPad or iPhone when no internet connection is available. That will also remove the ads that are (not unreasonably) earning Evernote a few bob in the free version. I’d prefer a “one time purchase”, but the main offering is the ongoing use of their servers to store the data and make it available on all devices, so I can’t blame them for preferring the subscription option.

… and Evernote has a “word count” option that tells me I’ve written 872 words (before revisions), so now I can go out to play.

A few bits and pieces this week..

Tab key Tip

Tab KeyWhen filling in forms online, or even just entering a username and password, it’s much quicker to use the tab and “shift tab” keys to move to the next and previous fields respectively than it is to fumble around with the mouse.

If you are not familiar with the “tab” key, it is always at the lefthand side of the keyboard. I think it’s always to the left of the letter “q”.

“shift tab” is executed by depressing the “shift” key and, while the shift key is still down, tapping the “tab” key. Getting used to using the tab key in this context is much quicker than typing one piece of information, fumbling for the mouse, clicking on the next “field”, and typing the next piece of information.

By the way, a “field” in computer terms is a specific piece of information on a form or otherwise entered into or held by the computer – eg “mobile phone number” can be a field and “surname” can be another.

Still on the subject of typing and keyboards:

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Mini

iPad Mini Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard CoverI’ve been finding the “virtual keyboard” on the iPad Mini more and more usable for “extended typing sessions” as I practise with it more and more. Nevertheless, I would prefer to have a “proper” keyboard that’s good enough that I forget about it for the duration of writing, say, 1000 words.

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad has a reputation for doing a good job for the iPad, and now the iPad Mini version has just been released. Naturally, though, the challenge for the manufacturer is even greater here, as there’s even less space to work with to create a comfortable, usable, keyboard on an iPad Mini than on an iPad. I’ve read a few reviews that vary in their assessment of how well Logitech have pulled this off. Here’s an example from Macworld. If there is a consensus at all, it is that the main keys are fine but some of the less important ones are too small to use without a conscious effort. At the time of writing, the only supplier I can find that has them in stock is Amazon. This is one occasion where I’d really like to get my hands on a product (literally) before buying it, so I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival on the High Street. My guess is that either John Lewis or PC World will get it first. Yes, I know that I’m somewhat less than enthusiastic about PC World, but I’m not relying on their technical expertise, and I think it unlikely that I would want to return it. Those are my two criteria for buying from PC World and they pass the test in this case.

Moving smoothly on to another High Street purchase..

Maplin Remote Switchif you find you need to reboot your router regularly and the router is not near your computer, you could buy a remote control switch (eg from Maplins) and keep the switch near your computer so that you can re-boot the router without leaving your chair!

These remote control switches are also very handy for other computer devices whose power switches are not easy to get to.

And, finally, AVG Antivirus (not for the first time)
 
I stopped recommending AVG Free as the best free antivirus program because their marketing tactics seemed to be getting more and more aggressive. They seemed to do everything possible to steer their users into installing (or upgrading to) paid-for versions rather than the free version. I often find it hard to find the free version on their website, so here is a current link to AVG Free.

Be careful, though, as they still try and get you to click on the paid version. They’re still showing orange buttons for links to the free version and green links to the paid version. No doubt they think we’ll be more likely to click on the green one as we’ll think it’s safe.

It’s a whole year since I was congratulating myself on a whole year’s worth of weekly blog posts

2 candles on a calendarSo, what’s the same and what’s changed in the last year? To begin with, an update on the items I mentioned a year ago

Microsoft Security Essentials

I had recently introduced MSE as the antivirus program on my main computer. It’s behaved perfectly in the year since then. No viruses, no dramas, no complaints. It’s free, unobtrusive, and has a reasonable reputation for doing its job properly. I can’t imagine why I would want Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky or any of the other paid-for, bloated, antivirus programs.

AVG Free Antivirus

I said a year ago that I’d stopped recommending this as their marketing tactics (in leading users of the free product to upgrade to the paid product) had become too aggressive. They must have been listening to complaints such as mine as one client asked me this year to backtrack their system from the accidental installation of the paid version, and AVG offered to reinstate the free version that the client had previously been using. This is an improvement. Apart from the their marketing tactics, my experience of AVG Free antivirus had always been positive.

Zen Internet

Zen keep on winning awards for the best ISP. If price is the most important aspect of your broadband provision then I recommend investigating PlusNet as their support is also based in the UK. If you just want the best service and think it’s worth paying to make sure you get it, then I would continue to recommend Zen. In all the support calls I’ve made to ISPs on behalf of clients in the last 12 months I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the likes of BT, Talk Talk, AOL, Virgin, have done anything at all to improve the service they provide when something goes wrong with their broadband service.

What else has changed in the last year?

Dropbox

Dropbox logoDropbox is a cloud-based storage system that allows you to synchronise content between your different computers, access your content from other computers, and share folders (and their contents) with other people. It’s gained a really strong foothold over the last year or two and there are “apps” for other devices (such as iPhones and Android devices) that give you access to the contents of your Dropbox folders on those devices. Plenty of other apps are now also allowing you to share their data between your different computers/devices by using Dropbox. Dropbox doesn’t give you the most free space of the cloud-based storage systems. If you need lots of free space, look at Google Drive or Box or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. It does seem, though, that Dropbox is the most prevalent of the cloud storage services. If the initial 2gb of free space is not enough, you can either pay for more space or “earn” more space by recommending new users and/or jumping through other hoops that Dropbox offer you. Click here to get your free Dropbox account (and you’ll earn both yourself and me more free space if you use this link!)

Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoWindows 8 has just been released. It’s too soon to say how it’s being received but the predictions were that it might just not succeed in combining the requirements of touchscreen devices (such as tablets) with the requirements of a “proper”, keyboard and mouse, system. From what I’ve seen of it so far I think it might be OK.

I was thinking that it might be time to install it on my main machine, so I ran Microsoft’s Upgrade Assistant to see if any problems were anticipated. I was quite surprised to find that Windows 8 claims not to be compatible with Microsoft’s Access 2007 (although other modules in the 2007 version of Office appear to be ok). Life starts to get a bit complicated at this point as Office 2013 is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2013. So would people in my position upgrade to Access 2010 now or wait for Access 2013?

If it wasn’t for the fact that I need to get a grip on Windows 8 in order to help out my computer support clients then I’d let sleeping dogs lie for the time being. Another reason for waiting a while is that iTunes for Windows is not currently compatible with Windows 8. I think that most of my clients would only need to think about Windows 8 if they are going to buy a new machine. At the moment, if you buy a new Windows 7 machine you can upgrade to Windows 8 later for just £15, and maybe that would be the simplest decision to take for now. However, if you are thinking of buying a new Windows 8 machine then I would definitely run the upgrade assistant on your present setup to see if any other software will need to be upgraded or replaced.

Single candle on calendarIt’s a year since I started writing this blog every week. Before that I’d just dipped my toe in the water, wondering if I’d got anything useful to say on a regular basis to my computer support clients and potential clients. So, this week I thought I’d have a look back on some of the earlier posts and see what’s changed.

Microsoft Security Essentials

MSE LogoOn 16th October 2010 I wrote a post about Windows free antivirus program – Microsoft Microsoft Essentials. I had just installed it on an XP machine, and then I put it on my Vista Ultimate machine. It hasn’t caused me any problems apart from the tray icon disappearing initially on the XP version. The program just quietly gets on with the job. It’s caught a few nasties and seems to have dealt with them without drama. Admittedly, I don’t use these machines much except when providing remote computer support to clients who use Vista and XP themselves, and as destinations for backups from my main machine. Nevertheless, it appears to have done a near perfect job so far. It’s easy to install and very unobtrusive.

I now trust Microsoft Essentials to the extent that I have installed it on my new main laptop – a Samsung RF511 15.6 inch notebook. (This is my third Samsung and, so far, it’s as good as the first two.)

AVG Antivirus

AVG LogoShortly after blogging about Microsoft Security Essentials I covered AVG Free and even then I was complaining about how they try to mislead you into installing a trial of the paid version rather than installing/upgrading the free version. It’s my impression that this tendency has got worse during the last year and, frankly, I’m now too embarrassed to recommend it to clients unless I think they will be happy to do battle with AVG’s mis-directions. Recently, I’ve even seen AVG popups that suggest that AVG has saved the user from innumerable threats in the recent past. This is un-necessary, intimidating and misleading. I’d been recommending AVG for several years, but I now recommend Microsoft Security Essentials instead.

Zen Internet

Zen Internet Logoon 5th November last year I gave a plug, by way of a blog posting, to Zen Internet. They’d just won PC Pro Magazine’s award for Best Internet Provider for the seventh time. Guess what: they’ve just done it again.

As a consultant providing computer support to small organisations, independent professionals, and home users, I am often the person asked to deal with internet provider call centres on behalf of bemused and frustrated clients. I have some clients who call me to their homes and offices specifically to deal with these call centres because they find the experience too stressful, frustrating, and protracted to do it themselves.

Call centres appear to be geared to handling the maximum number of technical support calls with the minimum expertise. The way they do this is to force their support staff to follow a strict troubleshooting sequence that doesn’t require them to think: just to follow the instructions on their screen. The agent isn’t allowed to deviate from “the script”. so no real dialogue takes place with the client. It doesn’t seem to matter very much what the customer tells the “support agent”, the agent will still insist on making the poor client jump through exactly the same sequence of hoops every time. This approach tramples right over the customer’s primacy in the exchange. It’s appalling, frustrating and dis-empowering.

Compare this approach with that of Zen Internet. Their support people (based in Rochdale) actually listen to you, engage with you, and address your issue as a one-off that needs to be solved as such. It’s true that they don’t offer 24 hour support (it’s 08:00-20:00 weekdays and 09:00-17:00 at weekends), but that’s probably because they’re staffed by human beings – who need to sleep. Despite only being available during reasonable hours, Zen provide a much much better service than the likes of BT, Virgin and AOL. It’s true, though, that Zen are not competing on price. You won’t get broadband from them for a fiver a month. I use the Zen Lite service. It’s their “entry level” service and costs £15.31 plus VAT per month. It only includes 10gb downloads, but that’s fine for me as I don’t download movies or watch BBC iPlayer. As far as I am concerned Zen are worth every penny and I am happy to keep recommending them and plugging them.

So, as I’ve kept blogging on a weekly basis for a year there’s every chance I’ll stay with it. The readership is small but very very select! Actually, the readership is growing slowly and steadily, but I’ve not spent time and effort promoting it beyond the readers who matter most – my own computer clients and potential clients. I try and keep the focus on the needs of my own computer clients, but I am, of course, very happy for anyone at all to subscribe to the newsletter or read the blog online.

Thanks for reading!

PC Magazine defines antimalware as

“An umbrella term for antivirus programs, spyware blockers, intrusion detection systems (IDS’s) and other software that detects and eradicates unwanted input, which in almost all cases comes from the Internet.”PC Magazine

Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' stares out of screenThere are two types of antimalware programs – real-time scanners (also called on-access scanners) , and on-demand scanners. Real-time scanners run on your system all the time. This term covers all programs that call themselves “antivirus” programs. This is the type of protection that this blog post addresses.

There are scores of different real-time products available. How do you know which one is right for you? This is a very common question and is difficult to answer. Some of the criteria involved could include:

  • ease of installation and use
  • does it slow the computer down or get in the way
  • what range of threats does it guard against
  • how well does it detect threats
  • how well does it remove threats
  • what (if anything) does it cost

It must be a bit of a conundrum for the antivirus program manufacturers that the better their program, the less the customers notice it. What we want as users is to just get on with using our computers and not worry about the potential problems. I can’t imagine anyone getting excited by reading through the list of threats a particular program claims to guard against. It hurts our brains even trying to understand the nature of the threats that we are told a specific program will guard against. What we actually want is peace of mind and no hassles.

Also, I feel sure that the way you use your computer can affect the amount and type of threat you are exposed to. There is no doubt in my mind (but I have no proof for this) that having young people using a computer seems to increase the chance of catching something. I suspect that this is because young people are far more likely than older people to be using the internet in a way that involves sharing of files amongst themselves. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that the bad people out there have realised this and target this part of the market accordingly. Maybe it would be an idea for the antivirus manufacturers to market their products towards specific groups of people that represent the different emphases of threats that those people may be exposed to. Anyway, they don’t, so you can’t find an antivirus program claiming to be “Supreme for Silver Surfers” or “Fantastic Fort Knox protection for 15 year olds”.

So how do we make the best decisions as far as antivirus is concerned?

If you want to look into this in huge detail and make a highly informed decision then I recommend www.av-test.org. Each quarter they publish a set of results of testing many products that are available for one specific operating system (Windows XP, Vista, or 7). They then cycle through these operating system each quarter. They score each product according to protection, repair, and usability and display the results in sortable tables (see http://www.av-test.org/certifications.php)

My own experience

My own favorites tend to change a bit over time. For a few years I have been recommending AVG Free. I think that it still does a very good job technically, but their increasingly aggressive marketing often “misleads” users into installing the paid version rather than the free version and they’ve even used scare tactics once or twice in the last year.

I’ve been installing Microsoft’s own “Security Essentials” on my own and clients’ sytems for a while and I have to say that it certainly performs very well in at least one respect in that it is virtually transparent: it just gets on with the job, updating itself quietly in the background and only making its present felt when there’s a potential problem. I don’t recall a single instance (yet) of anything getting past “Security Essentials”.

One product that I’ve not used in-depth myself but which seems to be highly liked by clients is Kaspersky Internet Security. Unlike AVG Free (natch) or Microsoft Security Essentials, it is a paid-for product but it gets increasingly cost-effective if you buy a licence for several machines.

Nothing’s perfect

Whatever product you go for, keeping up with malware threats is just that – keeping up. The bad people are always going to be one step ahead. We just have to hope that our antimalware product is very very quick off the mark in detecting and dealing with new threats The only way to stay completely safe from online threats is to stay away from the internet and that really would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So, it stands to reason that it is possible for a threat to get past your protection.

…. and we have to live with that

You may think, then, that it would be a good idea to have another line of protection in the form of a second antimalware program. Good thinking, but don’t. You could break your system. If two real-time antimalware scanners go to check the same file at the same time the whole system could freeze.

So what do we do

Keep your antimalware program up to date, ensure that it is automatically updating its data files, and check that it is set to completely scan your system once a week or so. And, by the way, are you taking backups?

And what of Mac Users?

I’ll be investigating the current thinking on antivirus protection for Macs in the coming weeks.

If you use AVG free then you will no doubt have noticed the popup screens that have been appearing in the last week or two (as below)

AVG Free update screen

Once again, we are being led by the nose to “upgrade” to a paid version of a product that is perfectly adequate in its free version. They highlight the “Recommended Protection” option in orange, hoping you’ll click on this button. To install the latest free version, however, you should click on the “Update Your Free Protection” button.

It seems to me that the free version is still perfectly adequate and I myself am going to continue to use it.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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