We all understand the software business model: you pay a license (or a monthly fee) and you have the right to use a program. And we also understand that when a software or online service is free, then it is that the company that has made it earns income otherwise taking advantage of things like our data. Google and Facebook are the kings in this.
Does it translate the same way with antivirus? In the case of paid antivirus yes, because you simply pay a subscription or a license to use them on your Windows computer. But what about free antiviruses? How do they get the money they need to keep running?
The “freemium” model to take advantage of the free attention
One of the formulas that use free antivirus is precisely to amass a good community of users and take advantage to promote a series of optional services that cost money. It is enough that a certain part of that community accepts to pay and we already have a business that stands on its own: in October Avast valued at two billion dollars and an income of 300 million dollars by 2015 (40% More than last year).
Those responsible for Avast Antivirus describe this in their official website : they have more than 230 million users who use the free base, and are receiving information on specialized payment plans with improvements for both individuals and businesses. It is these payment users who hold “payrolls, rentals, development costs and analysis of new threats coming every day and support from all users.”
However, that has not made Avast any controversial episode. Four years ago the company had to suspend the alliance with a third party company that was in charge of its technical support, as they appeared suspicions that the support deceived the users to pay for a help that they did not need. Fortunately, the problem ended there and Avast was not directly responsible.
Bitdefender is another example of this freemium model: a free basic service for everyone, which serves as a basis to offer more complete payment solutions and thus get a group of subscribers who maintain the business. Until in a few months we will not know their income of 2015, but in 2014 they predicted that they would grow 50%.
Scareware, Adware and other methods “express” for income
Unfortunately, the freemium model is not free from practices that lack ethics. HowToGeek has a “catalog of horrors” that shows us: many security programs resort to tricks like changing the browser configured by default in your browser, install those horrible toolbars that are useless in it, or installing adware in Form of absurd utilities in the computer. The latter usually does AVG in its free services, and its fiscal year of 2015 has been of record : 428.3 million dollars in revenue.
Avast also becomes an example here: in October 2014, the company was accused of using adware to collect the browsing history of its users, which the program’s director of operations denied in their support forums.
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Avira wants to install adware extensions, ZoneAlarm wants to place its official website as your browser homepage, Panda Free wants to place Yahoo as the browser default browser … all free solutions have some other promotion. And when it offers you legitimate software there is no problem, the bad comes when what you install has no use other than affect the performance of your computer and place more ads account.
And of course there are cases like MacKeeper, with an advertising campaign so aggressive that many users end up hating the software. In my formations, I have found many Mac users who do not even know they have MacKeeper installed, since you only need to click on one of those banners disguised as system messages so that everything is installed without your permission.
In fact, MacKeeper could be considered a good example of the concept of Scareware, because it exaggerates the security dangers to provoke the false sensation that the application is essential. Those responsible for the program have faced many criticisms and have even denounced those who criticized them negatively. The worst thing is that this style of business works for them, because in those denunciations there were figures of 650,000 licenses sold in the United States. And that means $26 million in revenue.
Are there any agreements between companies to point out false threats?
Freemium, installation of malicious programs or with advertising, change of home webs and search engines by default … is there any other method with which a free antivirus can make money? Hussein Nasser pointed out another in his blog a few years ago that shows us the “creativity” they may have.
The capture that you can see above is a warning of an antivirus, warning that it has detected an “infectious malware” that is actually a patch to skip the license of payment of a game. Okay, this is software made by cracker to play for free a payout game, but nothing beyond that. The suspicion: antivirus companies can charge companies to detect these patches as malicious programs to scare the user.
Caution: This does not mean that patches that crack licenses cannot contain malware. In fact, that is a real threat. But there are those who wonder on websites like Quora if anti-virus effectively detect those specific threats or if they simply treat any patch known as malware to motivate them to buy more and crack less.