A few years ago, Mouse Print* pointed out the tactic that the maker of Quicken (Intuit) uses to get customers to buy an upgraded version of their software: Every three years, they deliberately disable online functionality so you can no longer make electronic payments or download account statements. That nasty policy is unfortunately still in place.
Now comes Symantec, the maker of Norton Anti-Virus, Norton Internet Security, and similar protection products, with an even nastier ploy.
Here is how Norton Internet Security (or Anti-Virus) used to work. You buy and install the software, and you get one year of updates free. (Packages have clearly disclosed that you are buying one year of service.) The updates included new “virus signatures” that would protect your computer from the latest malware threats. These typically might be pushed to your computer at least once day. After your year was up, you would no longer get updates, but the software would still function fully, giving you virus protection, etc., at least for the known threats and the known patterns up until your new updates stopped. Fine, that gave you time to get new software, wait for a sale, change brands, whatever, but still have significant, though not complete protection.
That was then, and this is now. Starting on the day your one year service expires, all protection is stopped (note greyed out areas):
The software completely disables itself along with the protection you previously had, including the anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall. Even Windows 7 announces that you no longer have protection, nor a firewall installed (via Norton Internet Security).
When looking at the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), the fine print that nobody reads when you install a new software program, one discovers the following:
“The Software may automatically deactivate and become non-operational at the end of the Service Period, and You will not be entitled to receive any feature or content updates to the Software unless the Service Period is renewed.”
This language about the product automatically becoming non-functional actually goes all the way back to licensing agreements starting in 2007, but it is unclear if this had been fully implemented until the past couple of years.
Interestingly, on the box top of the software package itself, in what is virtually unreadable two or three-point type, the company is not quite as explicit about the product’s limitations:
“1 Year Protection: With this service you receive the right to use this product on one PC or on the specified number of PCs during the service period, which begins on initial installation and activation. This renewable service includes protection updates and new product features as available throughout the service period, subject to acceptance of the Symantec License Agreement included with this product and available for review at Symantec.com. Product features may be added, modified, or removed during the service period.”
Mouse Print* asked Symantec why they decided to completely disable the product, when they first starting doing that, and whether they would more clearly disclose the new limitation right on the box:
“We do not want to convey the impression to users that simply having an old Norton install with an expired service period will provide them with effective security since they are not receiving protection updates. This could create a false sense of security and lead to risky behavior. ”
“The retail packaging for both Norton Internet Security and Norton 360 includes a clear disclosure of the length of the service period together with an explanation that users receive the right to use the product during the service period and to receive protection and product updates released during the service period.”
The company confirmed that since the 2007 edition the product disables itself upon expiration of the year.
A related issue was raised by a reader who noted that if one renews updates when time is still left in the current year’s subscription, such as weeks in advance when you begin to get renewal reminders, one loses the balance of days or weeks left on the original subscription. We posed that issue to Symantec. They responded that if at the time of renewal the customer downloads the latest version of the software, then they do indeed lose the remaining time on their current subscription. If however, they just extend their subscription for another year, but delay downloading the new version (which is free to subscribers), then the extra year will be added to their balance of time. Notice to this effect, they say, appears on the website.
It seems to us that both these practices are anything but consumer-friendly. They may come as a surprise to the customer because of inadequate notice and deny that person the use of the product that they might have expected. The company did not agree, apparently, that the disclosure on the box could be improved.