Avast sells users’ data for free antivirus software under a pseudonym

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Security company Avast widely sells pseudonymised data from users of the free version to advertisers. This includes browsing history, which is sold to major companies such as Google, Microsoft, Pepsi and McKinsey, among others.

This is according to a joint study by Vice and PCMag. The sites received documents such as contracts and leaked data. The investigation comes after earlier controversy about Avast’s services. Mozilla, among others, removed the extension of the antivirus company and its subsidiary AVG from Firefox after it turned out that the add-on collected much more information than intended. Avast responded by saying that the data was collected under a pseudonym. The company also said it had stopped collecting data. In the meantime, however, it continued to collect data through the free version of the desktop variant of the antivirus software.

The documents and data from Vice and PCMag show that detailed information about the internet behavior of users is collected. This would include browsing history, but also search terms entered by users on websites and GPS coordinates. No personal data would be collected, but according to experts who spoke to Vice and PCMag, it was sometimes possible to find out who was behind a dataset.

Avast used a subsidiary called Jumpshot for resale. He sold the data to large companies such as Google, Yelp and the Home Depot hardware store. They could in turn use the data for customer research. For example, Vice and PCMag note that publisher Condé Nast used the data to measure the effectiveness of an ad campaign. Companies can also purchase datasets that allow them to see which users have visited a particular site.

Avast says that after the removal of Mozilla, it gave an opt-in for data collection on the desktop. However, Vice and PCMag spoke to several users who didn’t know they had signed up for it or didn’t remember making the choice. Avast has a total of 435 million monthly active users, but how many of them use the free version is unknown. Jumpshot said in 2018 it had data from 100 million unique devices.

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