Avast, the Anti-virus company has announced that it will not be providing any more data to, and will be commencing “a wind down” of its subsidiary Jumpshot Inc after a report that it was selling supposedly anonymised data to advertiser third parties that could be linked to individuals.
Jumpshot Inc, founded in 2010, purchased by Avast in 2013, and operated as a data company since 2015 essentially organises and sells packaged data, that has been gathered from Avast, to enterprise clients and marketers as marketing intelligence.
Avast anti-virus incorporates a plugin that has, until now, enabled subsidiary Junpshot to scrape/gain access to that data which Jumpshot could sell to (mainly bigger) third party buyers so that they can learn what consumers are buying and where thereby helping with targeting their advertising.
Avast is reported to have access to data from 100 million devices, including PCs and phones.
The reason why Avast has, very quickly, decided to ‘wind down’ i.e. close Jumpshot is that the report of an investigation by Motherboard and PCMag revealed that Avast appeared to be harvesting users’ browser histories with the promise (to those who opted-in to data sharing) that the data would be ‘de-identified,’ ( to protect user privacy), whereas what actually appeared to be happening was that the data, which was being sold to third parties, could be linked back to people’s real identities, thereby potentially exposing every click and search they made.
As reported by PCMag, the inclusion of timestamp information, and persistent device IDs with the collected URLs of user clicks in this case could, in fact, be analysed to expose someone’s identity. This could, in theory, mean that the data taken from Avast and supplied via subsidiary Jumpshot to third parties may not be de-identified, and could, therefore, pose a privacy risk to those Avast users.
As an anti-virus company, security and privacy are essential elements of Avast’s products and customer trust is vital to its brand and its image. Some users may be surprised that their supposedly ‘de-identified’ data was being sold to third parties anyway, but with a now widely-reported privacy risk of this kind and the potential damage that it could do to Avast’s brand and reputation, it is perhaps no surprise that is has acted quickly in closing Jumphot and distancing itself from what was happening. As Avast says in its announcement about the impending closure of Jumpshot (with the loss of many jobs) “The bottom line is that any practices that jeopardize user trust are unacceptable to Avast”. PCMag has reported that it has been informed by Avast that the company will no longer be using any data from the browser extensions for any other purpose than the core security engine.