My confidence in avast is slipping away

I used to rave about avast. Lately, the glitter has come off.

First of all, what is avast? It’s, on the whole, a non-intrusive antivirus package that sits in the corner of your PC keeping it protected and safe. I pay for it, as I use it for business. But it has a free home offering which, on the whole, I recommend. Both of my parents use it, thanks to my recommendation.

But below is a synopsis of a couple of issues I’ve faced recently that have downgraded its reputation for me.

On 11 April, a new virus definitions file downloaded in the background to my PC completely destroyed my internet experience. Suddenly, I was unable to visit any http pages, although https pages could still be accessed.

Twitter was full of people with the same problem. The only immediate remedy was to disable the software (which freaked me out), go to AVG’s website, download the competitor’s product, and start using that. Which I did. To do so, I had to uninstall the avast software package.

I fully intended to go back to avast once the problem was fixed—partly because I was paying for the privilege, but mainly because I had developed a brand loyalty since initially subscribing to avast over five years ago. After a couple of weeks, to my word, I switched back.

My mum emailed me this morning asking for help. Her iGoogle homepage had lost all of its gadgets. This evening, I called her, hoping that she’d simply logged herself out, or had switched to classic view instead of the iGoogle view. The problem was not quite so simple. So I logged into her machine remotely using Copilot, and worked at solving the problem.

Nothing was coming up trumps. I tried restoring a backup of her Google settings (something I didn’t realise you could do), but still her gadgets wouldn’t appear beneath the picture of Bugs Bunny she’d chosen as her theme.

So I Googled the issue, and eventually happened upon one reporting a conflict between certain webpages and avast’s WebRep feature. Now I was aware of WebRep. Not the name, but the reality of it. It basically gives ratings of sites that you visit, or those that pop up in search results. It’s like a mobile phone signal icon, bright green, giving each site a number of bars. I’m not quite sure what the bars signify—site’s reputation, safety, something of that ilk, I expect—but it wasn’t particularly intrusive (or so I thought), so I never bothered uninstalling it.

Looking into it, it appears that avast had installed a Firefox extension on my mum’s machine on a recent update. And this was killing iGoogle. Likewise, I have had a Chrome extension installed. And as it turns out, this is the reason my Facebook and Google Reader pages have been hanging and running like dogs for the last few weeks.

Apparently, probably with my and my mum’s unwitting consent, avast installs extensions to Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer, and automatically checks for new browsers with the intention of installing sister extensions.

I have uninstalled the extensions on both of our machines, and our respective web experiences have, it seems, been sorted.

For the first issue, I completely forgive avast. We all have off days. And it seems that avast had one on 11 April. It would have been nice if they’d publicised the severity of the issue on their website (rather than a rather muted piece on their blog), but beyond that, I was happy that they fixed the issue quickly and I could get back to normal.

As for the second issue, I cannot forgive quite so easily. If a software provider wants to install an extension to my browser of choice, I want to be informed of this. And I don’t mean small print. I mean that I should actively decide whether or not this is something that I want to happen. I didn’t, and the impact was severe.

I’m staying with avast for the time being. But if there are any further issues, I’ll be hunting for an alternative.

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