Should ACCC tackle pre-installed AV?

Pay now pre-install pop ups “reeks of fake antivirus”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been tackling tech giants Google and Apple during the past week for their “misleading” marketing campaigns, but is it neglecting the second largest scam in Australia?

The commission is well aware of the scale of fake antivirus and scareware scams in Australia.

The ACCC’s 2011 Targeting Scams report noted there were 19,473 such reports last year, making it the second most prevalent scam in the nation — well above the 5,430 reports it received about phishing and online banking scams.

The example of “hacking scams” the ACCC highlights is: “Scammers calling consumers asking for remote access to their computer to run a scan or fix a technical problem. Also social media and email account hacking.”

In other words, “scaring” people into willingly offer bad guys access to their computers, which is exactly what scareware aims to do.

The ACCC also warns Australians about the dangers of bogus antivirus alerts through its SCAMwatch program, a brochure outlining the existence of that threat.

If scareware — pop-up or cold call — was the second most common scam in Australia last year, perhaps it's time for the ACCC to tackle one of the underlying factors that contribute to the fake antivirus industry.

In the pop-up case, Paul Ducklin Sophos’ chief of technology, reckons the marketing technique common to the big-wigs in the antivirus industry could be worthy of the ACCC’s attention: pre-installed antivirus on big brand PCs that expire after 30 days and then ask the consumer for payment for continued protection.

“I don't like the "now you have to pay to get protected" approach myself, since it reeks of fake anti-virus, and that makes it a bit confusing,” he told CSO.com.au.

HP’s Pavilion g6z series, for example, comes pre-installed with a 60 day Norton Internet Security 2012 subscription.

After the trial period expires a pop up alerts Australian consumers that it will cost $79.99 for one year’s protection.

Dell includes in its PC prices a 30 day trial of McAfee’s SecurityCenter after which consumers can pay $35.20 for 15 months protection and so on.

Ducklin's not against software bundling itself, especially since he argues Microsoft is the guiltiest of them all “bundling its OS with almost every PC sold in Australia” -- an idea he says he likes even less.

The action the ACCC could take would not grab the headlines its attack on Apple’s 4G has, but it could tackle a problem that does lead to confusion, and by its own figures is a major problem in Australia.

Ducklin’s suggestion?

“You can imagine that the ACCC might consider forcing vendors to pop up a list of "what are your options now your pre-installed security product is running out" in order to make the transition a little easier.”

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More about AppleAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionDellDell ComputerGoogleHewlett-Packard AustraliaHPMcAfee AustraliaMicrosoftNortonSophos

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