FTC slaps Avast with $16.5m penalty for selling browser data

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It’s indeed concerning when cybersecurity solutions meant to protect users’ privacy end up compromising it instead. The case of AVAST highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in the handling of user data. Users trust these companies to safeguard their information, and any breach of that trust can have serious consequences.

In a recent development, UK-based cybersecurity company AVAST found itself in hot water as the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uncovered its illicit practice of selling user data to marketing and advertising firms. The repercussions? A hefty penalty of $16.5 million, coupled with a cease-and-desist order mandating an immediate halt to these dubious activities.

The investigation shed light on AVAST’s clandestine data-selling scheme dating back to 2014, which remained undisclosed for nearly a decade. The company’s antivirus solutions were not just safeguarding users’ devices but also covertly capturing sensitive browsing data, including URLs of visited webpages, search queries, and even purchase history. Such information paints a detailed portrait of users, encompassing their political inclinations, financial status, and religious beliefs, thereby facilitating targeted advertising campaigns.

Central to this controversy was AVAST’s subsidiary, Jumpshot, which acted as the conduit for funneling user data to third-party advertisers. Despite efforts to conceal these activities, the FTC’s scrutiny exposed the truth, prompting decisive action against the cybersecurity giant.

As part of the FTC’s order, AVAST is required to cease all data-selling operations and notify affected consumers about the misuse of their data. Furthermore, the company must purge all information amassed and utilized by Jumpshot, ensuring the eradication of any lingering privacy concerns.

It’s worth noting that AVAST had previously shut down Jumpshot in January 2020 amidst mounting controversies surrounding its data harvesting practices. However, the FTC’s intervention underscores the need for greater accountability and transparency in the cybersecurity sector.

In light of these revelations, users may reassess their reliance on third-party antivirus solutions and consider alternatives such as Microsoft’s Windows Defender. With its robust capabilities and regular updates, Windows Defender offers comprehensive protection against cyber threats, alleviating the need for additional security tools.

Ultimately, the AVAST saga serves as a stark reminder of the paramount importance of safeguarding user privacy and holding companies accountable for their actions in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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Naveen Goud is a writer at Cybersecurity Insiders covering topics such as Mergers & Acquisitions, Startups, Cyber Attacks, Cloud Security and Mobile Security

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