Avast Fined $16.5 Million for Selling User Data and Will No Longer Trade It

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a ruling banning antivirus software developer, Avast, from selling web browsing data of its users to advertisers. However, Avast declared that its applications do not permit tracking of users online.

It was reported that Avast settled FTC allegations for a sum of $16.5 million which, as per the regulator, would compensate the Avast users whose confidential web viewing data was sold to advertising companies and data brokers unlawfully.

“Avast promised its users that its products will protect the privacy of their browsing data, but did the opposite,” stated Samuel Levine, the Consumer Rights Protection Bureau Director of FTC, during a statement on Thursday, noting that Avast’s practices contravene the law.

Details of Avast’s Alleged Violations

FTC stated that for years, Avast had been collecting the users’ online actions, inclusive of their web searches and sites visited, through its browser extensions, which Avast claimed would “protect your privacy” by blocking online tracking cookies.

Avast allegedly sold this data through the now-defunct subsidiary, Jumpshot, to more than one hundred companies, thereby earning tens of millions of dollars. FTC maintains that the data sold by Jumpshot disclosed users’ religious beliefs, health issues, political opinions, and online whereabouts, among other confidential details.

Investigations Revealed

A joint investigation conducted by Vice News and PCMag in January 2020 revealed that Jumpshot had been selling confidential web viewing data of users to companies like Google, Yelp, Microsoft, Home Depot, and consulting giant McKinsey. Among other things, Jumpshot allegedly sold data regarding the users’ clicks, including specific web links clicked by users.

At the time, Avast had more than 430 million active users globally, and Jumpshot professed access to data from 100 million devices. A few days into this investigation’s publication, Avast shut down Jumpshot. In 2021, Avast merged with Norton LifeLock and is now a part of the parent company Gen Digital that also owns the CCleaner application.

Avast Contests FTC’s Claims

While responding to the regulatory announcement, Avast stated its disagreement with “the claims and description of the factual material.” “When Avast voluntarily closed Jumpshot in 2020, it discontinued this practice. The operational provisions of the global agreement match Avast’s current privacy and security programs,” the company noted.

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