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Ask Deemable Tech: Why Does My Antivirus Software Want My Personal Information?

Wayan Vota

Janet asks, "I was preparing to install McAffee’s antivirus program, but the user agreement gave me pause. It states that McAffee will 'take any personal and sensitive information they wish that is personally identifiable and share it with their providers.' Does all antivirus software collect such information?"

Congratulations, Janet, you are the one person out of a million who actually reads the End User License Agreement (or EULA, in geek-speak). That’s the document that most people don’t bother to look through before clicking “I Agree” when installing software.

McAffee’s EULA states that they will collect your name, email address and any payment information you gave them, as well as stats about your computer, how much you used their software and how often you downloaded updates. It also does note that all of this is “personally identifiable data.”

While that does seem worrisome, think about what McAffee is trying to do. They’re gathering data from millions of different computers to try to identify new types of viruses and malware, so they actually need to know all about your computer. And if you bought the software from them, they will need your payment information. We think that this makes sense. We also realize that most other antivirus programs are probably going to do the same thing.

This does, however, bring up the fact that EULAs are notorious for being full of weird, alarming stuff. For example, the Apple iTunes EULA contains a clause forbidding you from using it for “the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.” It’s okay if you’ve missed this, considering that the iTunes EULA is 56 pages long.

There is actually a lot of controversy about how legally binding End User License Agreements really are, with some U.S. courts upholding them while others don’t. You agree to them at your own risk, but if you don’t want to agree to them, you won’t ever be able to install software, sign up for most websites or use most mobile devices. Some people think there should be restrictions on EULAs, and if you agree, you can write your Congressperson about it.

But for now Janet, the best thing we can recommend is to just cross your fingers, click “I Agree,” and install the software.

Photo credit: “XO Tablet End User License Agreement” by Wayan Vota is used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Tom Braun is a writer living in Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to writing about tech and co-hosting WJCT’s Deemable Tech, he writes content for websites and blogs, ghostwrites ebooks, writes short fiction and has written a woefully unpublished dystopian young adult novel that is no doubt his ticket to fame and fortune. Before realizing his true calling as a writer, Tom worked for over a decade as a software developer. He enjoys board games and traveling and once spent a year living in The Netherlands.