Summary of The Cost of Avast’s Free Antivirus: Companies Can Spy on Your Clicks

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Antivirus software should protect your machine, but one company’s free products have been labeled spyware. Avast’s subsidiary Jumpshot was caught scraping data from user browser histories such as shopping, video watching and social media posts, and selling it to marketing firms. Avast claims it needs to collect the URLs to protect against viruses, but privacy experts disagree. Even though the aggregated data was stripped of personal details, savvy marketers find ways to reconstruct identities. The practice resulted in a major investigation, detailed in this revealing PCMag article.

About the Author

Michael Kan is a PCMag reporter, covering topics such as cybersecurity, digital devices, privacy, hacking, artificial intelligence and gaming.

 

Summary

It’s almost impossible to de-identify aggregated user data.

When people install antivirus software, they usually don’t worry about sharing their browser histories with major marketing firms. The company Avast has gotten away with doing it by claiming that users’ personal data were stripped from their histories before it was sold.

This “de-identification” process means that multiple user profiles are aggregated before being sold to online marketers. The problem is, no de-identification method is foolproof. Sophisticated marketers find ways to link browser histories to individuals.

Although Avast’s antivirus software is free to install, the company has sold browser histories to third parties through a subsidiary.

According to an investigation by PCMag and Motherboard, Avast’s Jumpshot division was offering traffic information from 100 million PCs and phones. Their big-brand and e-commerce clients...


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