Is Your Antivirus Tracking You? Here’s What You Need to Know

An antivirus is the most trusted piece of software, as its primary goal is to protect you from malware. However, when it comes to antivirus privacy, your security program may be sending home more data than you would like.

Let’s explore the current state of antivirus privacy and how they handle your data.

3 Ways Your Antivirus Can Breach Your Privacy

The data behind this case comes from Restore Privacy, an organization dedicated to helping people protect their privacy. They published a report called “Is Your Antivirus Software Spying on You?” which collates information about how antiviruses track you.

1. Antiviruses Have Sold User Data in the Past

One of the biggest privacy shakeups in 2020 was when Avast was caught selling click information to third parties. Avast’s tracking data was anonymized, but companies that bought the data could compare the click logs to their own website’s activity logs. This allowed companies to identify who was who on the logs.

These kinds of scandals occur with antiviruses that offer a free version of their software. This is typically how these companies make their money—by selling user information to interested third parties.

2. Antiviruses Can Peek Inside HTTPS Data

Antivirus protects you from visiting malicious websites. To do this, it needs to see what you’re visiting. This becomes a problem when you visit an HTTPS website, as your computer will encrypt the data before your antivirus can get its mitts on it.

Antiviruses get around this by creating a proxy on your computer, capable of creating fake SSL certificates. When your computer connects to an HTTPS website, the proxy grabs it, checks the URL, then sends it onto the destination with a new certificate.

You can see this process happening on the certificate itself; click the padlock next to an HTTPS website, check the certificate, then see who it was “Issued by.” If it says your antivirus’s name, it means your security software is peeking into your traffic.

3. Antiviruses Can Contain Additional Programs Which Track You

Some antivirus programs come with additional tools that claim to help secure your browsing. These are potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), which can cause a breach of privacy.

The report above mentions AVG, which comes bundled with a PUP called SafePrice. Supposedly aimed at giving you the best prices for goods on the internet, with the downside that SafePrice tracks your spending habits.

As such, antiviruses can track you in more ways than one. Depending on the PUPs they install, and how you use them, you may be handing over data through multiple avenues.

Why Do Antiviruses Want to Collect Your Data?

These days, data is worth a lot to companies. When an online service offers its platform for free and without advertising, it doesn’t have many options for income. Therefore, it has to sell on the data it collects to third-parties interested in harvesting information.

These days, data harvesting is a commonplace occurrence. Facebook is the most famous example, harvesting personal information and using it for beneficial gain. It’s at the point where people model election wins using Facebook’s data.

One of the main mantras with free software is “if you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product.” As such, some people aren’t surprised whatsoever that free antiviruses harvest information. After all, how else would the companies pay their employees?

Despite this, the idea of antivirus harvesting data worries people. A good antivirus should protect its users and prevent privacy breaches. Now, we’re discovering that even antiviruses are untrustworthy, especially the previously highly-recommended free solutions.

How to Avoid Handing Over Data to Antiviruses

Unfortunately, merely going antivirus-less isn’t the ideal choice. It’s always good to have a layer of defense against viruses and hackers. So, what can you do in the light of antiviruses tracking you?

Use Paid Antiviruses Over Free Ones

Using paid antiviruses feels like going back to square one. For years, people recommended free versions over paid ones, and now we’re going back to paying for our security. The truth is, however, free antiviruses grew to the point where they need to harvest data to stay afloat.

So, instead of paying for your antivirus with your data, pay with your money instead. We’ve recommended some paid options in our picks of the best antivirus software for Windows 10, so give it a read if you’re unsure about your security.

Research and Customize Your Free Antivirus

Some people, however, won’t be able to pay what premium antiviruses want. In this case, you’re going to need to be pickier when choosing your antivirus.

When you like the look of free antivirus, do some reading through their terms of service and see what they’re logging. Don’t blindly click “Next” through the installation and uncheck everything that asks to harvest your data. Finally, check the options and get rid of any default settings that may breach your privacy, such as HTTPS URL checking.

Check For PUPs During Download and Installation

When you download and install an antivirus, do some reading to ensure you’re not installing any PUPs. Read the installer carefully and don’t mash the “Next” button until you do. By carelessly speeding through an installer, you may accidentally agree to install software you don’t want. This, in turn, can invade your privacy and track your activity.

The Most Privacy-Conscious Antiviruses

It’s a pain to have to navigate the minefield of antivirus privacy. Are there any antiviruses that protect your data without you needing to scan the installer and check every option? While they’re few and far between, they do exist.

A screenshot for Emsisoft antivirus

First, you have Emsisoft. Emsisoft does send home information about its license, the computer’s name, and details about the viruses it caught. However, it doesn’t send home anything else, which makes it an excellent choice if you don’t want your antivirus monitoring your actions.

The report also recommends ClamAV. ClamAV is a fascinating case, as the entire program is open source. This means you can trust the AV won’t track you—if you don’t, you can always look over the code and check for yourself!

ClamAV is also the rare case of an antivirus that’s both free and respectful of your privacy. As such, it’s a good option if you don’t want to pay for an antivirus, but you also don’t like the idea of surrendering your data.

Keeping Your Information Safe on the Internet

It’s easy to trust antiviruses as your digital guardian. After all, they keep our computers safe from viruses and keep themselves updated to repel attacks. However, it’s not all good; some antivirus software will harvest and sell on your data. Be careful with which antivirus you pick, and what options you enable on them.

If you want to defend your privacy on the internet further, be sure to try one of the free anonymous web browsers that hide your data.

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