A Free Lunch?

“You are the product” is a digital age reboot of that old chestnut warning the unwary and unwise – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”!

Last December we learned that Mozilla has removed from its Firefox web browser, four security extensions from Avast and its subsidiary AVG.The extensions in question…

  • Avast Online Security
  • AVG Online Security
  • Avast SafePrice
  • AVG SafePrice

…are all installed in the ‘free’ versions of the antivirus/security product and all are suspected of spying on users through the Firefox browser.

The ‘Online Security’ extensions are designed to alert users if they’re about to enter a known or suspected malicious site, helping keep them safe from phishing and other scams. The ‘SafePrice’ extensions provide information on product pricing on alternative sites, possibly saving user’s money.

A good service, on the face of it.Except it was discovered that each of these popular extensions was collecting far more data than users suspected, including web browsing history, then relaying the information to a web address linked to Avast.

How does a company provide a service for free? It doesn’t!Instead, it harvests your data, analyses it and uses it for focused advertising or to promote their other ‘paid’ products and services. The real customers are advertisers looking to target you with their promotions. When was the last time you browsed a random product online only to be bombarded with a series of adverts for that specific product, or other similar ones, when browsing other websites over the next few days?

It has been said in various ways by different people that with regard to Facebook “you are the product, not the customer” – which is probably at odds with how most general users view their interaction with Facebook. Facebook and Avast/AVG are by no means the only providers of ‘free’ online services, so who else might see you as their sales product? Any online service that requires you to sign up or logon with an email address. Online services such as Google (Docs, Gmail, Search, Storage). Social Media services (e.g. Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter).Online storage services (e.g. DropBox, Amazon).

Even free software usually asks you to sign-up before you can download it or activate the product. These free products may not include all the same features as the paid products. In the case of storage solutions, they usually provide just enough storage to get you committed and when you run out of space you have no option but to switch to the paid service. For software products (e.g. anti-virus) some features aren’t available and can only be enabled by upgrading to a paid product.

Consider brand loyalty cards – what easier way, in the digital age where data is king, to collect ever more information on individuals? Vast amounts of information, sifted, siphoned, analysed and correlated into the targeted, focused emails (phishing) and online adverts we see all around us.

Protect your data and personal information with help from The IT Agency – call us on (02) 8317 4730.