The Times They Are A Changin’

freeBob Dylan’s 1964 lyrics apply well to all of the free anti-virus programs that I’ve been advocating for years. If you’re still using a free anti-virus program on your computer, you may be paying for it in other ways.

Software companies are now bundling adware, spyware, toolbars, and other junk to make a quick buck.

Here are the main ways that free anti-virus companies now make their money from you:

Changing Your Default Search Engine: Anti-virus companies attempt to change your browser’s search engine to one of their own choosing. They then make money when you click ads on these search results pages. This may sometimes be branded something like “secure search,” but you’re actually just using an inferior search engine that makes the company money.

Changing Your Homepage: Anti-virus companies also want to change your homepage, driving traffic to websites that make money by advertising to you.

Ask Toolbars and Rebranded Ask Toolbars: Many programs want to install the terrible Ask toolbar. Some companies use a rebranded version of the Ask Toolbar with their own name on it, but one that is still the Ask toolbar.

Junkware: Anti-virus companies add additional programs (or “offers”) to their installers that are automatically installed by default. They’re paid by the program’s creator if they can install the program on your system – as much as a few bucks per install.

Tracking: Anti-virus companies track your browsing habits and other personal details about you. Some antivirus companies probably sell this data to make more money, too.

Fortunately there are still a few free anti-virus programs that are worth using. One of the better ones is Microsoft’s Windows Defender (Windows 8) or Microsoft’s Security Essentials (Windows 7). No tricks or bad stuff installed. It’s paid by your Microsoft licensing fee when you purchase Windows. Another one is Avast Free. It does try to install one or two things during the install, but all you have to do is uncheck a few boxes before the installation begins.