Informed Consent: if Your PC Breaks, It’s Your Fault

Informed Consent: if Your PC Breaks, It's Your FaultFirst let me say that I am highly prejudiced against all paid for anti-virus programs; I personally believe that we have all been duped into believing that we must shell out cash to protect our Windows-based computer systems. Second, while it is true that Microsoft has completely failed to protect its operating system, which is like a sieve, let it be known that I am a Windows fanboy and use Windows as my primary OS. However, before you Apple zealots get defensive, I need you to know that I respect and also see the advantages that are built into the Apple OSes.

What do these two things have in common? Basically, for Windows to operate without catching a virus, it needs an anti-virus program that will catch a bug before it makes itself at home on your computer. Knowing that, I am always looking for information on new anti-virus programs. It was while I was in one such search process that a commentary, written by William S. Platt in a recent issue of MSDN magazine, caught my attention. In the article, Mr. Platt describes his recent experience with Norton Internet Security and his interpretation of what he describes as implied consent.

His story started with his wife calling out to him for help with her computer system. I immediately knew how he felt; when I hear the word “honey” accented with a certain tone in my wife’s voice, I know that it has to be a computer-related problem. Sure enough, Norton Internet Security was asking a question about whether a program from the Internet should be allowed access to his wife’s computer. In my personal experience, this question is annoying. The fact is that it doesn’t matter whether it is Norton, Windows itself, or other protection software that is asking your permission, but rather, why can’t Norton, Microsoft, or any other protection software program recognize what is safe and what is not safe?

However, as the article continued, the author provided the motive behind the questions. Apparently, Mr. Platt was at a conference when he entered into a conversation with a guy wearing a Norton badge. During this conversation, the man explained that the questions gave the program developers a way to shift the blame, since answering yes to the question gave them implied consent. In turn, this implied consent protected them with a release of liability if the program were to damage your computer. The man then went on to explain that this is no different than what one experiences when they see a doctor who presents a patient’s treatment options and then allows them to make a decision as to which one they wish to adhere.

But what I found really interesting was the fact that it is not just Norton that employs this type of informed consent way of thinking. In fact, Microsoft has used this very same type of thinking since the development of Windows Vista, when the operating system started asking questions that most users haven’t a clue about how to answer. The insanity of the questions, at that time, resulted in Microsoft setting up a procedure to stop the madness and put an end to customer frustration.

I also found it interesting that, with the progression of technology, no company has yet developed a software program that can detect which programs are installed on a system, which are in need of calling home, and which are not. Why would that be such a problem?

One must then ask, if the time should come when this type of program is made available, should there be exceptions to the rule for specific software programs? Should the program know how to control these E.T. phone home programs? In my opinion, the exception would be free programs for which the user accepts responsibility and determines that they wish them to be downloaded to their computer. However, whenever a user has to pay for a program, they should be able to count on one that would provide a higher level of protection than that offered by the free versions.

These conclusions by Mr. Platt support something that many of my colleagues and I have known for at least a decade. His conclusions are that:

  • In general, free software works just as well as their paid counterparts.
  • AVG, avast!, Microsoft Security Essentials, Panda Cloud Antivirus, Avira AntiVir Personal Edition, and many other anti-virus programs are free. Why pay?
  • No amount of protection can be 100% effective without keeping the software updated.

So what do you think? Should a user of a paid version of Internet security, anti-virus, or anti-malware software protection be held responsible for answering “yes” to a question they may not understand? Do these companies that sell their products need to step up and answer to a higher standard than their free counterparts?

Share your thoughts.

Comments welcome.

Source: The Myth of Informed Consent

Article Written by

I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.

  • Strydrdenis

    I have never paid for an anti-virus program. I have always used the free versions and as a result I know I am responsible for what gets installed on my machine and if I get infected it is my fault.
    I am currently using MSE and have for the last couple of years and am very happy with this protection.

  • Johndraz

    This should be required reading for anyone operating a computer – whether the OS is MS, Apple or any other system. 

  • GadgetFix

    Nice article Ron. 

    I think you forgot to mention that Microsoft does provide its own protection, its called Microsoft Security Essentials; and for ‘premium’ service you opt for Microsoft ForeFront. I see that you mentioned it towards the end as a ‘free software’. 

    While Microsoft was a bit late to the party, their product is really effective. 
    If you need ‘Internet Security’ you’re probably at an age where pop-ups are attractive to you, or you really are ‘New’ to the internet. In this case something like Norton or McAfee will be a good solution; as well as Little Snitch for OSX. Over time you’ll probably know what to do and not to do. Trial and error; or just receiving a few expensive GeekSquad or GadgetFix bills will do it for you. Wink wink.People need to understand how things work regardless of what option you choose; Mac, Win, Linux. It does become “your fault” when you are careless; or you just rely too much on the automation of an application; or feature to resolve a problem for you.If you don’t bother to educate yourself or logically don’t see a need for an anti-virus you are just going to run into problems in the long term. I love the fact that Apple users claim OSX has no vulnerabilities, malware or viruses. Its actually far worst the machines are rooted and the end user has no clue. Eventually their ISP or an intermediate end point will notify you if you’re lucky; otherwise you wont even notice.

    Certain PC manufactures got a bad rap a few years back but they tried to help the consumer. 

    For example if anyone remembers “Big Fix”, it was loaded on many Gateway, Toshiba and eMachines systems. Big Fix would perform a system scan, check all of your software, drivers and files then fetch all of the updates including at the time Macromedia Flash, Java Runtime etc. 

    Fast forward to 2012, Secunia PSI is pretty much a replacement or alternative to Big Fix, and a tool everyone should have. Though as with anything there are false positives. I think that Apple and Linux have got things going in the right direction and Windows is catching up. 

    I’m sorry if I have gone off topic but honestly I hate situations where blame is shifted to the consumer, tech or equipment. 

    I deal with this in my area of expertise and I’ve got to say I try to avoid pointing the finger, even if someone’s child decides to download songs on FrostWire; and mistakenly ends up running a fake MP3 that turns their pc into a viagra email server/zombie DDoS system… Cough cough.

  • Freds74

    I assume you know very little about computers, apart from how to click buttons to make it work.
    “I am highly prejudiced against all paid for anti-virus programs” ; why?? If you choose to use an insecure operating system, then accept the consequences and pay for it to be protected. You pay for the computer, OS, printer, modem, speakers, monitor, and all the other peripherals. If you don’t want to be vulnerable, learn to use Mac or linux.

    • Commonsence

      The ignorance in your post screams louder than a air raid siren. Mac and Linux are not immune fanboi. Both Operating systems have their vulnerabilities and are attacked differently then having to sneak in a virus to exploit that hole. While you live in your delusional world of OS X and Linux being immune. Companies who us these OS’s as their primary OS have a lot to worry about as well as the companies that use Microsoft. Mac and Linux are not invulnerable like you seem to think. Do some basic research before you open your mouth and try to seem Techie.

  • Kyle Polansky

    I have been using MSE for a while now as well. I always complain when other people are paying for anti-virus software. In most cases, it will require more computer resources than some lightweight free programs. When I finally convinced my grandparents to give up their paid software, they said they had some kind of contract with it (through the ISP), so they were cautious about paying money, even though they were using the free program. It also seems that free programs seem to have a bad rep in the enterprise world. I’d be interested to see some actual results of paid vs. free software to see if they do actually act the same.

  • Thomas Ham

    I own a PC repair shop and have been installing AVG FREE from day one. I personally have only had 1 virus hit my pc in 8 years. FREE!!!! I update atleast once per day. I use Spybot and CCleaner 8 years should speak volumes

    PS telling my age if you ever heard of Peter NORTON b4 he sold the company Nortons was free to everyone

  • Thomas Ham

    I own a PC repair shop and have been installing AVG FREE from day one. I personally have only had 1 virus hit my pc in 8 years. FREE!!!! I update atleast once per day. I use Spybot and CCleaner 8 years should speak volumes

    PS telling my age if you ever heard of Peter NORTON b4 he sold the company Nortons was free to everyone

  • Spoonmedia

    I run Avast (free) on several of my mobile machines, and Kaspersky paid on my primary one, and workstation/filestore.  As far as peace of mind, I think paying a nominal fee is not unreasonable, as those of us choosing to run windows based systems, and then using them to go online, plug in flash drives from friends, family and who knows where, should be prepared for variables affecting our systems.

    If we choose to browse using a linux based system with a free A/V and keep our windows based machines or partitions off that addiction we call the web, then I do not think that any of us should have to buy, download, install or tolerate the pop ups and system slow downs (however nominal) that antivirus apps can bring.

    Just my random thought, 


  • Moorescrapemails

    no paid,i have used the freebies in the past..but for the past 3-4 years i have used NO virus protection.3 pc,2 laptops,3 tablets..only thing is run through a router and what internet provider virus’s, no problems..stay away from pron,music sites ,your fine…

  • The Dutch Guy

    The best anti-virus program on any OS is simply the best and free, use common sense!

  • Ben

    At the bottom of this article, there’s an ad for Total Defense Internet Security….irony

  • Casey Frennier

    I mostly use avast free, spybot, and malwarebytes. My last experience with Norton was that it slowed my computer down so much that I would have rather had a virus on it than Norton.

    I’m of the mind that more people would use free antivirus programs, like avast, and they would have more user input and analytics. I also think that because they are free more people will be able to keep them updated. When a Norton subscription expires you stop getting updates till you hand over more money. When avast expires you just register again and put in your email address.

    Who is to blame when you get a virus? The jerkface who made the virus. However, if you engage in high risk behavior and you pirate and porn your way through the internet you shouldn’t be surprised when you get one.

  • Casey Frennier

    I use MSE on my virtual machines. I like it and I think it has the lowest footprint of anything I’ve tried. I don’t use it on my real world machines though because I feel if we could trust our security to Microsoft we wouldn’t need to install an antivirus program to begin with.

  • shokk

    I think people are responsible for their own failures to keep their system from getting infected, but when someone delegates that responsibility to a pay service that proclaims to be the best protection, they should expect protection. That service should provide backup services along with their AV software if they know it is prone to false positives that can lose data. The price of that AV software is certainly enough to add a Dropbox/Crashplan style service to all customers to give that level of insurance.

  • OZZY o

    I know what you mean I’ve used Avast for 5 years and SpyBot. I leave in a Apt and all my nieghbors know I fix computers on the side and I tell them all the time Don’t buy Anti-virus software.

  • nitrofurano

    what for is an anti-virus? since i were only using Linux, i never needed it at all

  • JH_Radio

    I’ve used Nortin (which is a system hog), AVG and MSE. I like MSE the best.

  • recursional

    I always paid until I used Avast. Which I also paid for. But I am unable to uninstall it, and it won’t let me apply sp1 to  my W7HP. I have had a wounded computer since 2009, and Avast is unable to help me.