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April 11, 2011

Norton Disables Itself After One Year

Filed under: Computers,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:18 am

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:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“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:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“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.

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20 Comments

  1. I ditched Norton many years ago. It’s a major resource hog; especially the security suite. There are excellent free anti-virus software like AVG, Avira, and Clam Win. For spyware/adware protection I recommend ‘Spybot Search & Destroy’, Adaware, and Malware Bytes. Better yet, check out Ubuntu Linux or Linux Mint; Linux is impervious to viruses and spyware. (I’ve been an IT ‘tech-head’ since DOS version 4.)

    Edgar replies: Actually, in the past couple of years, Norton has lightened up a lot, and no longer seems to drag down my system at all.

    Comment by Dusty — April 11, 2011 @ 8:18 am
  2. These 2 practices, along with the fact that you can usually go to the store and buy the new software at half the price that the renewal costs is why i stopped using norton early last year. (that and the fact I have only ever had one virus in all the years I have had a computer) I just use the freeware versions of a couple other companies.

    Comment by Just_Gerald — April 11, 2011 @ 8:20 am
  3. While it may not the resource hog it used to be, I have had major problems with infected systems where Norton said there was no problem. Attempting to un-install Norton has proven to be a nightmare several times. I also prefer the free software. Even Microsoft Security Essentials seems better than Norton!

    Comment by Torymon — April 11, 2011 @ 8:48 am
  4. I noticed that Norton disabled itself and I used the opportunity to switch to the FREE Microsoft Security Essentials, a virus program highly reocmmended by independent analysts. I also started using the free version of Zone Alarm. I am very happy with both programs. Norton has a variety of highly obnoxious practices and deserves to lose customers as a result. I am gone forever. If you don’t like Microsoft, there are plenty of free virus programs.

    Comment by Bob 50 — April 11, 2011 @ 9:03 am
  5. I have to agree with Dusty, use the freeware versions of various antivirus and you’ll get as good protection as Norton without the strong arm tactics. Another piece of software that works great is Microsoft’s own Security Essentials, it’s free and very lightweight.

    Comment by Azeem Jiva — April 11, 2011 @ 9:09 am
  6. The only reason I use Norton is because it’s free to Comcast customers. Otherwise I would dump it in a heartbeat.

    Comment by Sully — April 11, 2011 @ 9:35 am
  7. Symantec claims keeping the product past the one year will create a false sense of security and lead to risky behavior. So shutting the application off after the one year is their solution. I am amazed at how companies can get away with such ideas.

    Comment by bobby — April 11, 2011 @ 9:49 am
  8. Just like the other mentioned Microsoft Security Essentials > Norton!

    Comment by Jesse — April 11, 2011 @ 12:03 pm
  9. Norton just expired 3 days ago on all our PCs, and I have been slow to renew. I saw the warnings and thought we were still protected, but just couldn’t get updated virus defs. Glad I happened to check mouseprint, because now I’m dumping Norton after over a decade of use, and go with an antivirus that doesn’t act so obnoxiously. The pictures of Peter Norton on the cover of the boxes take me back to ages of old, but unlike Quicken, competition in this field is strong, and no one has to submit to this tyranny.

    Comment by Chiropractor Biz — April 11, 2011 @ 1:43 pm
  10. I’m going to be the voice of dissent here and say that this is actually a good move on Norton’s part. AntiVirus is worse than useless if it isn’t updated frequently, because I think it gives the user a false sense of security if it’s still running even though its definitions haven’t been updated in years. If you’re going to charge for AV protection, better make sure it actually protects against the ever-changing landscape of threats out there to day.

    I do agree however, that there are much better (free) alternatives to Norton out there. Maybe this new policy will get people onto some AV that doesn’t require you to worry about subscriptions, which is the best place to be, IMHO.

    Comment by Simon — April 11, 2011 @ 2:00 pm
  11. I discovered this issue just this past year. A service period had always implied the updates and not the program. $30-$50 to rent a program will end up putting Symantec out of business. Like others, I’ve discovered other options.

    By the way, once this practice was discovered I recommended to my company that we no longer use it. They listened.

    Comment by Tim — April 11, 2011 @ 4:08 pm
  12. I fully agree on using some freeware program. I use the Microsoft program and love it.

    Comment by richard — April 11, 2011 @ 6:42 pm
  13. I use CCleaner, MalwareBytes, and Avast!. They are all free AND are wonderful programs. I too got rid of Norton a LONG time ago. Norton is an EXTREME PAIN to try to uninstall. I was still finding LOTS of files in my registry and hidden folders all over the place.

    Comment by Melissa — April 12, 2011 @ 10:02 pm
  14. This does not surprise me as the company is run by Robert “Steve” Miller who is known for his deception.

    Comment by Rick G. — April 13, 2011 @ 7:35 am
  15. I could be mistaken, but I recall that at one time, after the subscription expired, you could no longer get automatic updates, but could manually install updates downloaded from their website for as long as the virus scanner “engine” was still being maintained. The “engine” being the back end software that actually does the scanning, not the GUI layer on top of it. Frequently the engine would be shared for several years before being retired, though the GUI or other features might be upgraded each year.

    This struck a nice balance between giving the consumer value and encouraging them to upgrade.

    Comment by Derlin — April 13, 2011 @ 3:50 pm
  16. Although Norton is not the resource hog it once was, it is sill a ripoff. Let the program run out and if you still want it, head out to staples the next weekend and buy it again for half the renewal price.

    Comment by George — April 17, 2011 @ 7:39 pm
  17. I don’t mind that the whole thing dies at subscription end but losing time if you renew early is theft regardless of disclosure — they *don’t* have to structure it so you lose time. There are many, much better AV software out there besides the big 3. Have MS Security Essentials but it’s really not rated very highly as far as malware detection goes. Safe browsing habits is probably 90% of the battle. Linux is only security by obscurity; once Linux captures a large-enough market, the bots will come.

    Comment by anonymous — April 19, 2011 @ 5:25 pm
  18. All I know is that fraud antivirus 2007(8)walked right through Noton like it was an open gate. I got PC Tools and that vaporized it from my system and have used tools for three years with no problems. My subscription also allows a second and third computer and my daughter – Queen of questionable sites – uses one and has had no problems.

    Comment by Rick — April 20, 2011 @ 7:53 am
  19. Today I noticed that my Norton Subscription was 18 days from renewing, so I decided to rummage through my unimportant email to find if Norton had sent an updated price for this year, since I had set my account up on mannual renew. I had another reason for this – I don’t always use the same bank card. When I found the e-mail from Symantec, I noticed that it said “Norton Subscription Automatic Renewal Notification.” Whoa – wait a minute – I specifically set my account to manual renew, because I knew companies automatically default to “automatic renewal” during the order process; and to top it off they were going to charge a card that I now kept a very low balance on – in two days! (My fault for not checking my email sooner, it was sent 15 days before the charge date.) The charge date is 15 days before the expiration of my subscription. I logged in to my account and changed it back to mannual; then called Norton, who changed my account back to manual also and stopped the transaction. If you still have use Norton Anti-virus with mannual renewal, it might behoove you to check your account, just in case it resets. (For those wishing to comment on keeping such a small balance on a card, it was a school account from which I am no longer attending.)

    Comment by Kris — November 4, 2011 @ 6:00 pm
  20. Update – after complaining to Norton about the “automatic renewal,” and getting what I thought was a resolution – they revoked my subscription. I contacted them again, (after all, I paid for 18 more days), and they offered me 48 days of subscription, my remaining 18 and 30 for the problems with my account. However, when the CSR got back on the line, he only gave me a 30 day trial. Their reason – my subscription had been prevously been revoked! (Insert scream here.)

    Comment by Kris — November 4, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

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