AVG follows FTC’s privacy lead, adds “Do Not Track” tool for its 108M users

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Security software company AVG will add a “Do Not Track” feature to its popular web security applications tomorrow, a move that parallels the FTC’s report today advising companies to offer a similar feature to help protect consumers.

Online privacy concerns have been building over the past few years with companies like Facebook, Google, and advertising firms tracking and selling data about users. Those concerns blew up earlier this year when Google announced sweeping changes to its privacy policy, which went live on March 1. Those concerns attracted U.S. Congress, state attorneys general, and U.K. regulators.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued a report today that advocates that businesses offer a “Do Not Track” button to consumers so they can “opt out” of being tracked. While AVG didn’t coordinate with the FTC on this, the two announcements overlap to a huge extent. AVG will give users the ability to stop being tracked by many companies that do not offer a clean-cut solution for opting out.

AVG CEO JR Smith told VentureBeat that the new “Do Not Track” update is designed to give consumers better protections when it comes to their data. The feature will automatically be turned on when customers update to the latest version of the software, but they can turn it off if they want.

“I would say the majority of Internet users don’t know how they are being tracked,” Smith said. “Let’s at least try to educate consumers and give them more control over their data.”

Much to my chagrin, the feature does not prevent all companies from tracking you, and Google and Facebook are exempt because they are “acting responsibly.” Smith said only companies that are not responsibly approaching data privacy will have their tracking cookies blocked. Mostly this means advertising companies.

I asked Smith if AdRoll, a successful ad startup that tracks sites you visit and re-targets ads at later times, would be included. He said he believed so, which means AVG could directly hurt AdRoll’s bottom line.

“There are hundreds of ad networks out there and some of them will be affected,” Smith said. “Any company that is aggressively tracking people will be blocked. We will give companies the ability to contact us to talk about getting off the blocked list.”

AdRoll President Adam Berke told us that his company is fully supportive of giving consumers control over their data, as long as such tools are not “arbitrary or extreme.”

“Our targeting is based on cookies and much of the personalization around the web is based around cookies,” Berke said. “Extreme blocking could have a lot of implications. Consumers have made it clear that they don’t want to pay for 99 percent of content on the web and in return, they get advertising. The goal of using cookies is to make to make ads more personal, not to abuse data.”

AVG’s Smith said this was just the beginning for “Do Not Track” and that the product will evolve over time. Other features and more controls will be added eventually.

AVG currently has more than 108 million active users, with 15 million of those paying. The company’s popular software, including its free anti-virus program, can be found on the company’s download page.

You can see a few screenshots of AVG’s Do Not Track tool in action below:

Hand shadow on keyboard photo: Lisa S./Shutterstock