Amidst rumors that Avast Antivirus, a popular cyber-security firm best known for its free antivirus software, has been selling users’ browsing data, the company has announced it is now shutting down the subsidiary responsible for selling the data. Avast hasn’t denied the controversy, and its CEO Ondrej Vlcek has apologised and revealed that the board of directors has agreed to “terminate the Jumpshot data collection and wind down Jumpshot’s operations” with immediate effect.
A joint investigation by PCMag and Motherboard found that Avast had been selling “highly sensitive” browsing data from its users. Avast boasts of a 435 million plus active users due to it being free.The investigation found that the free software collects browsing data, which was being repackaged and sold by Jumpshot, an Avast subsidiary. Jumpshot claims they sell the data to some clients who paid millions for “All Clicks Feed” packages, which tracked browsing activity in minute detail, down to every click within an individual domain. Data included search engine queries, URLs and the exact time they were visited, and in some cases specific search terms used on pornographic websites.
Jumpshot asserts to have collected data from 100 million devices. Avast said that personal information, such as names, email addresses and other contact details were never sold and that it can protect privacy by anonymizing datasets. However, the investigation found that the datasets being sold could be linked to individual users in some cases. “As the saying goes, there is nothing like a free lunch”, always be extra careful when using free products, especially software products.