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11/9/2006
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Symantec Defends Upgrade Software; 'Not Adware'

LiveConnect is actually a notification system that alerts users when a major upgrade is available for their Symantec software, the company says.

Some users are calling new software from Symantec Corp. "adware" because the security vendor clandestinely delivered it to their desktops. But the software is actually a new update notification service, a Symantec exec said Thursday.

The new software, called "Norton LiveConnect," began reaching users earlier this week. After not finding any additional information about the software by searching Symantec's Web site, some users wondered if wasn't a poorly disguised marketing program that they hadn't agreed to accept.

"It downloaded and installed itself yesterday apparently from LiveUpdate," wrote a user identified as "codydog" on the DSLReports.com message forum Tuesday. "Did Symantec just force me to d/l [download] and install a marketing tool for them, that doesn't even ask if I want it? It just self-installs?"

Later the same day, codydog added "I'm going to assume that its [sic] some sort of adware Symantec is pushing out to users [and] that Symantec's policy is to install adware on users pcs/workstations without even asking for permission."

That couldn't be farther from the truth, said Rowan Trollope, Symantec's vice president of consumer engineering. "It's not adware. We're not trying to sell anyone anything," he said. LiveConnect is rather a notification system that alerts users when a major upgrade is available for their Symantec software.

Last year, Trollope said, when Symantec moved to a subscription-style model for its Norton AntiVirus and Norton Internet Security products, it promised customers that the annual fees entitled them to not only anti-virus signature updates, but also all program upgrades. LiveConnect, he said, is what Symantec came up with to alert users that a major upgrade -- to the 2007 versions of AntiVirus and Internet Security -- are available for downloading and installing.

"It's our mechanism for giving users major updates," said Trollope. The more familiar LiveUpdate software -- which is used to deliver anti-virus signatures -- couldn't accommodate the large upgrades to AntiVirus 2007 and Internet Security 2007.

While other software, such as Apple Corp.'s iTunes, notifies users of available upgrades when users open the application, Trollope said that wouldn't work for Symantec. "We found that most of our users don't actually run our applications." Instead, the security software, though active, works invisibly in the background.

"We're in a bit of a Catch-22 situation here," said Trollope. On the one hand, if some users object that LiveConnect downloads and installs without much of a by-your-leave, others would be upset if they weren't told they were owed an upgrade. "Most people don't even know they're entitled [to these major upgrades]," Trollope said. "I would argue that customers would be angry if we didn't tell them."

Before LiveConnect downloads and installs, users might see a standard LiveUpdate dialog that shows the component in a list. The dialog, however, doesn't divulge any additional information about LiveConnect or its purpose. Users who have set LiveUpdate to download and install updates without user interaction wouldn't see any notification at all, Trollope acknowledged.

Users can uninstall the LiveConnect component via Windows "Add or Remove Programs" control panel applet. They can also download major upgrades to the 2007 line of consumer security software directly from the Symantec Web site, although Internet Explorer is the process's only supported browser.

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