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