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Posted on July 4th, 2014 at 8:40 AM EDT
It would appear that Avast has joined the ranks of adware peddlers, as reader Fred Maxwell brought to my attention yesterday. Sometime around December of last year, a SafePrice option was quietly added to the avast! Online Security browser extension. This extension is available for Chrome and Firefox, but apparently not for Safari as far as I can tell.
The avast! Online Security extension is installed automatically in both Chrome and Firefox when avast! Free Antivirus for Mac is installed. The new SafePrice option, shown at right in Firefox, is enabled by default.
Avast explains the function of SafePrice on their website. However, their site claims that:
When SafePrice is initially installed, you are shown a welcome layer which explains SafePrice’s functions, including how to permanently deactivate it.
However, when I installed Avast on a test system, I did not see precisely what they claimed. I did see an Avast page load when I opened Chrome, and this page did mention SafePrice in a list of new changes. However, nowhere on that page was I given instructions on how to permanently disable it.
I also checked the license agreement that the Avast installer required me to agree to. Nowhere in that document was SafePrice mentioned, so a user who reads license agreements would have no idea that adware was being installed.
The advertising rears its ugly head when the user is shopping on certain sites. (Which sites, I’m not really sure… Avast simply refers to “participating trusted shops.”) A banner is added to the top of the page informing the user that a better price has been found.
Despite Avast’s claims of sites “participating,” I have a hard time believing that Amazon would be all that thrilled to see a potential sale being directed away to eBay! And although many users might like to see a cheaper price, most would prefer not to have potentially biased recommendations being made by adware.
I understand that it can be a difficult business model to provide free software. Sometimes, free software is ad-supported, and that’s fine. But there are some problems here. First, these are not just product promotions being displayed to the user. These are banners being injected into legit websites, directing users away from those sites and to other sites.
Further, Avast is security software. There are serious ethical issues with them recommending certain shopping sites over others, especially when they are not a company with any demonstrable expertise in the area of online shopping. A security company should confine itself to judgements of whether a particular site is a safe place to shop. If they get paid to direct users to a particular site, that is a serious conflict of interest!
Finally, adware is becoming a serious scourge, and anti-virus apps should concern themselves with the removal of such nuisances. They should not join in the melee.
I had some serious qualms about Avast already. Namely, a tendency towards false positives, including a particular system file that has been sporadically identified as a “decompression bomb” repeatedly since at least 2009. However, including adware in their anti-virus software really crosses the line. At this point, I strongly recommend that you uninstall Avast, if you have it installed. Be sure to use the most recent Avast uninstaller to properly remove all components of this software.