Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Avast’s Browser Extensions for Firefox and Opera Harvest User Data for Marketing, but Avast Also Sells Anti-Tracking Software

Thomas Brewster, Forbes:

Avast, the multibillion-dollar Czech security company, doesn’t just make money from protecting its 400 million users’ information. It also profits in part because of sales of users’ Web browsing habits and has been doing so since at least 2013.

That’s led to some labelling its tools “spyware,” the very thing Avast is supposed to be protecting users from. Both Mozilla and Opera were concerned enough to remove some Avast tools from their add-on stores earlier this month.

By truly bizarre coincidence, Avast also sells an expensive subscription product that promises to “stop invasive online tracking” and allow you to “take back your privacy”.

Brewster:

But recently appointed chief executive Ondrej Vlcek tells Forbes there’s no privacy scandal here. All that user information that it sells cannot be traced back to individual users, he asserts.

Here’s how it works, according to Vlcek: Avast users have their Web activity harvested by the company’s browser extensions. But before it lands on Avast servers, the data is stripped of anything that might expose an individual’s identity, such as a name in the URL, as when a Facebook user is logged in. All that data is analysed by Jumpshot, a company that’s 65%-owned by Avast, before being sold on as “insights” to customers. Those customers might be investors or brand managers.

On the marketing webpage for their anti-tracking product, Avast says that VPNs don’t secure your privacy enough because “advertisers can still track you and identify you based on your device and browser settings”. They also say that you’re not anonymous to trackers because your “online habits, along with your device and browser settings make up your unique digital fingerprint, allowing advertisers to identify you from a crowd of visitors”.

So: which is it?