In association with heise online

21 August 2006, 10:42

AOL moves to calm privacy concerns regarding Active Virus Shield

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In our recent news story concerning the release of the new virus scanner from AOL, Active Virus Shield, we reported that the new software would "collect data about the PC onto which it is installed and analyses how the user reacts to pop-up ads when browsing". This was based on our reading of the "License and User Agreement and Privacy Policy", available at the time on AOL's website. This document also described how the software would collect credit card and billing or shipping information, customer service information, and more. As we reported, heise Security tested the software, but we were unable to find evidence of this type of activity, more usually associated with spyware. However, we could not prove that such behaviour would never take place.

That a virus scanner should act in such a fashion is controversial to say the least, but this is how the software was described in AOL's own License Agreement. We have recently been contacted by AOL, who wished to make clear that Active Virus Shield in no way acts like spyware. It is now clear that the original License Agreement was at the least ambiguous, if not downright misleading, at least as far as the final software product is concerned. This troublesome document has over the weekend (19/20 August) been replaced by a new agreement, in which references to the monitoring of personal data, such as reactions to advertisments, credit card information, and so forth, have all been removed.

According to Ted Hopper, the Director of Product Management for Active Virus Shield, the only personal information captured by the software is "the email address that the user provides at registration". He also states that "The product does not monitor browsing behavior, nor does it have the ability to serve ads or otherwise influence the types of ads displayed to the user".

The new License Agreement does describe technical information that is gathered by the software, and none of this seems particularly unusual: "the type of browser you are using, the type of operating system you are using, the domain name of your Internet service provider, file requests for updates, computer errors arising in connection with use of the Software and Software configuration settings. The Software may also collect information about the malicious programs found on your computer during the scanning process and send the information to our servers for statistical purposes."

Active Virus Shield is available cost-free for Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000 and XP.


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