Sneaky Software Installs by Computer Companies Plague Customers

by: The Knowledge Group

December 05, 2017


A system-slowing telemetry feature on HP computers recently unnerved customers, and caused an uproar at online tech-related publications Endgadget and ComputerWorld. The tech publications, suspecting HP of sneaking spyware into computers, riled readers who’d been following the story of Lenovo’s installation of harmful adware on laptops.

HP, pointing to its privacy policy, assured people that the feature, HP Touchpoint Analytics, only records diagnostic data on hardware performance without identifying the users or otherwise breaching their privacy.

Lenovo’s Adware Misadventure

Lenovo started placing ad insertion software into hundreds of thousands of laptop computers in late 2014. The software, VisualDiscovery, was provided by the now-defunct start-up Superfish. The software worked by displaying pop-up advertising from retail outlets when users’ cursors drifted over related items on websites.

Soon, Lenovo buyers were dealing with added pop-up marketing on regular websites, including sites whose owners had taken care to use encryption for the protection of their visitors.

Lenovo’s insertions were not only intrusive and uncalled for; they also amounted to a serious security risk. Within weeks, third-party hackers were using them to bypass HTTPS security on web users’ computers. Passwords, social security numbers, financial details and medical information all became vulnerable to theft over any open wifi connection.

A settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over the incident did not result in a fine for Lenovo, but it requires the company to notify and obtain consent from users for installing similar software, and to submit to 20 years of security audits. Lenovo incurred a more recent $3.5 million fine as part of a settlement arrived at between a coalition of 32 state attorneys general and the laptop maker.

The Continued Effects of Computer Manufactures’ Quest for Revenue Streams

Lenovo’s punishment will hardly end this story. Acer has been known to install system-slowing Pokki software. Lenovo’s still pre-installing antivirus software. The list goes on.

Because software makers are revenue sources for computer manufacturers, uncalled-for installations will likely spook users for a while, even if they aren’t security risks.

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