McAfee And Me: An Ethics Rant

I have written here before about my theory that the needless complexity of life, especially involving daily interactions with technology, are driving normal people crazy, and sometimes homicidally crazy. While activists and justly alarmed citizens point to guns and mental health policies to explain murderous rampages by citizens previously regarded as quite and law abiding, insufficient attention is being paid to the ratcheting-up of daily stresses caused by the private and public sectors gratuitously making  daily life unbearably frustrating to navigate, particularly for the less skilled navigators among us.

I don’t expect to snap, but you never know. It is said, I assume apocryphally, that there was a sick drawing New Yorker black humor cartoonist Charles Addams would send to his editor when he was about to have one of his periodic breakdowns, and the magazine would see that he was deposited in his favorite sanitarium in a timely fashion. If you read the message  “AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGZZZZZKKKKKAAAAARHHHHHYY!”-and nothing else--in a future post, you will know that I have gone full Sweeney Todd (Sweeney in his fury and grief determined that half the human race were so cruel and corrupt that they deserved to die, and that they made the other half so miserable that it was merciful to murder them too) and my immediate neighborhood is in mortal danger. Call the police. I don’t have a gun, but I don’t need one: I’m pretty good with a baseball bat.

If and when that happens, something like my experience yesterday will be the cause.

I have a new netbook, and it included a free 30 day trial subscription to McAfee’s virus protection service. For a week I had been getting obtrusive pop-up ads from McAfee telling me that my protection was about to lapse and my opportunity to purchase a special discounted continuation of the service (Just $39.99, marked down from $89.99!) would soon evaporate. Yesterday was the expiration date, so I decided to accept the offer and sign up online.

I checked the appropriate boxes and filled in all the information, including the credit card data. The attempt to pay was rejected, the screen told me, for my security code, that little three digit number on the back of the card, was incorrect. So I reentered it, after checking it carefully. After much churning and two “preparing your order” screens, I again got the error message. Huh. I tried again. Same thing.

This provoked a mature explosion quite familiar to my wife and dog (the dog hid under the bed), in which I cursed all online purchase, subscription and registration procedures, which inevitably take far longer than they are supposed to, are so complicated that they invite human error, and appear to have been designed by Joseph Mengele as some kind of sadistic experiment. My wife sagely suggested that I try another credit card, since the one I was using had recently been the object of a bank screw-up that ate another several hours of my rapidly dwindling life span. This I did…four times. Every time, the security code was flagged as entered wrongly, which it was not. Finally, I used a third card. Again, no dice, “incorrect data.”

The attempt to pay McAfee $39.99 had now taken about a half an hour.

It is true that many rational people would decide under such circumstances, “The hell with this; I’ll buy a competitor’s product,” but I am not wired that way. I really hate being told that I am doing something wrong when I am not, so I voluntarily ventured into the always insanity-courting realm of “trying to reach a human being in customer service for a big company,” knowing that I would encounter wrong numbers, phone trees, annoying music, agents with impenetrable accents and disconnections. In McAfee’s case, it was difficult to even find out which number would reach McAfee rather than a McAfee allied tech service. Finally, after visiting eight links and trying to search for a number, I dialed an 888 number that I knew would go to McAfee, though not to the right department.

The renewal of my virus protection had taken over an hour, and I was cursing alarmingly enough that my dog asked to escape to the back yard.

That 888 number got me to an automated phone line and a 17 minute wait while I listened to an all-strings medley of Bert Bachrach hits (I hate every song Bert Bachrach ever wrote), a message that all agents were busy, and another message telling me to have my e-mail address waiting. “I’ll never fall in love again” was so deeply imbedded in my brain that only a lobotomy could remove it by the time a real live young woman came on the line.

I pre-empted the conversation with a terse monologue that informed her of my failed attempt to take advantage of the discount offer, my disgust with the company’s online service, and my determination to give McAfee one last chance to address the issue, a chance the company didn’t deserve. She asked for my e-mail address, which she didn’t get right the first three times. She asked for my name. She apologized “on behalf of MacAfee” three times before I said, “Stop doing that! I don’t want your apologies. I want the hour and a half this idiocy has removed from my day and my life, and I WANT TO GET MY ANTI-VIRUS PROTECTION WITHOUT ANY FURTHER INTERFERENCE. IS THAT SO HARD?

Then she told me I had reached the wrong line in the wrong department, which I already knew, but my eyes still started darting around the office searching for my Hillerich and Bradsby, 34 ounce Stan Musial autographed bat.

She gave me the right number, and sensing that this might be a dangerous situation for the residents of Alexandria, Virginia, she apologized for my difficulties (“on behalf of McAffee”) and connected me, astoundingly enough, to what really was the right number. The good news: the music playing this time was not Bert Bachrach, though it didn’t matter, because I was now involuntarily singing, “What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia…after you do, he’ll never phone ya…”  More good news: it took less than five minutes for an agent to get on.

Time lapsed: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

So I had to go through it all again. Name. E-mail. Story. Apology on behalf of McAfee. The woman, who I must say was very well trained and thoroughly professional, assured me that she could complete the transaction over the phone. My blood pressure began to abate, which is a good thing, since blood spurting out of my eye sockets clouds the lenses of my glasses. This makes it difficult for me to locate my bat.

After giving the young woman the name on my credit card, card number and expiration dates, I said, “Now please let me give you the security code, so I can at least have the satisfaction of completing the part that caused all the trouble.”

She replied, “Oh, I don’t need the security code. In fact, we’re not allowed to ask for it.”

Wait, what?  “Then why did the online purchase keep rejecting my application because of the security code?” I asked, wiping the blood off my lenses.

“Sir, the problem was that our system is being processed.”

“Are you telling me that there was nothing wrong with how I submitted the codes, and that McAfee just told me that because the MCAFEE system was down?”

“That’s correct, sir. On behalf of McAfee, I am sincerely sorry for the inconvenience.”


Why didn’t McAffee just have a message pop up—I can vouch that McAffee may be lousy at letting you purchase computer protection but it’s aces at pop-ups—telling me that its system was being processed and that I should try the transaction later?

Why did McAffee allow me to think I was screwing up and give them the data on three credit cards, never explaining that the problem was on their end?

Why had McAffee wasted two hours–and counting—of my work-day time when simply telling me what the hell was going on would have reduced my frustration?

“On behalf of McAffee, I apologize for the inconvenience.”

The woman was able to finish the transaction and apply it directly to my little laptop, though it required me to create a password and register. (Time elapsed: 2 hours, 16 minutes.) She promised that I would receive an e-mail confirming everything, and I did.

Then, at 7 :17 PM, I received this:

McAfee Security Alert
Your McAfee LiveSafe trial expires 07/11/2016.
McAfee® LiveSafe protects YOU – your data, your identity, and all your devices. Extend your subscription so you can continue to bank, shop, share, and socialize online with confidence knowing your entire digital life is secure. Get a one-year subscription for only $29.99.
Introductory Offer
(Regular Price: $89.99)


29 thoughts on “McAfee And Me: An Ethics Rant

  1. I recently had an annual physical and the doctor’s office called me Thursday and informed me there was something wrong with my insurance info and I needed to answer some questions for my insurance company so I needed to calm the insurance company to clear it up.

    It’s been 5 days and I still haven’t made the call because I know what black hole I’m in for.

    • I prefer to just use the anti-virus which comes free with my operating system. OTOH, I am a computer tech who can clean it up myself if something gets past it, am fairly careful to keep my computer and web browser up to date, don’t use internet explorer, and have a hardware firewall between me and the internet.

      • Chase Davidson said, “Norton is still pretty bad about popups and overhead.”

        I get a popup about 30 days before renewal date, I renew, and no more popups.

        Overhead? I just checked, mine is currently using 6.9mb of RAM, that’s NOTHING in the Gigabite RAM scheme of things! It’s way down the list on the usage listing.

        • I dropped Norton a couple years ago and went with webroot on one of my computers, noticeable difference and less cost. I now have it on all of our computers. In addition to our antivirus all our traffic goes through a proxy that does no logging, we have had no issues in the two years since.

  2. wait… after all that, and after the subscription ‘expired,’ it offered the same for AN ADDITIONAL $10 OFF? Oh that is rich.

    McAfee has serious problems with Windows 10 that have been killing folks at work for the past three months. Seems it does bad things to their computers.

    Kaspersky is my go to these days. Until they get bought out (horrors! McAfee might buy them!) and become the same corporate douches Norton and McAfee have.

  3. Just a lead in – I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years now and I don’t comment because I’m not very efficient at putting my thoughts into words. Anyway, I have McAfee and have had it for years. I never renew because I can buy the full version from Amazon for less than the renewal price. I sent them an email once and they reduced the renewal fee and it was still greater than the Amazon price. So, as I said, I always order the new version from Amazon each year and install it. Haven’t had any issues.

    I guess most people just assume that McAfee is going to give you a good renewal price and go with that. I always check.

    Also, I’m very careful about any updates, be it adobe flash, adobe reader, etc. because I don’t want any piggy-back software installed on my laptop. I’m very cautious but then I was a SW engineer for 30 years.

    Ive enjoyed reading and following your blog and look forward to continuing as I agree with you about 90 to 95 percent of the time.

  4. Actually there are a half dozen highly rated free antivirus apps that are as well rated or better than Mcafee or Norton. You should plan to check them out before your subscription expires. Not free trials but free versions, although they have a paid with more bells and whistles version you can use the free ones forever. I uninstall the preinstalled ones ASAP to free resources and reduce conflicts.

  5. This is right up my alley so this will be a bit long – also light on ethics but hopefully useful for the tech info.
    1. You’re using Windows (and since you mention a new laptop I assume you’re on 8 or newer). Dirty little secret is that you do NOT need an antivirus. Windows Defender is as good as any pay product, and those will only slow down your computer. If you need an external AV you can stick with Avast or AVG (now the same company) or FSecure – all of them free and less obnoxious.
    2. For your next laptop, get it directly from Microsoft and make sure it’s the Signature Edition. They are free of all the crap OEMs install by default (which they are paid for by the publishers). All that “convenience” software is not there to help you. Most would never be distributed without these arrangements. [Full disclosure: When you buy a Windows license you’re paying for my salary]
    3. The two key actions for security a regular user can and should do are using a different browser (I’m partial to Firefox) and an ad-blocker. I don’t have a problem with ads, but in the past couple of years they have become an attack vector and most infections are now the result of a malicious ad in an otherwise respectable site. In 20+ years using computers my only infection came through that route. Needless to say, avoid sketchy websites like the plague they are.
    4. Avoid Java and Adobe Flash. Unless absolutely required use an alternate PDF reader to Adobe’s; Windows 10 has one by default, for other versions stick to Sumatra or FoxIt.
    5. (This one is kind of marginal, but can make a difference if you can’t keep absolute computer hygiene). Make your everyday account a non-admin. Keep your documents in a server (company or cloud, but make sure someone else manages security and backups for you). At the first sign of,trouble you can log as admin and nuke the compromises account, rather than having to pave the machine.
    6. Keep all your software up to date.

    Fun fact: McAfee himself (nutball that he is) has completely disavowed the actions of the company bearing his name. It is that bad.
    Hope you’ll find this useful!

    • With due respect, Windows Defender is objectively a below-average security product. It’s better than nothing, but after having recently disinfected a laptop hit by ransomware, I strongly recommend something better, and there are many better than Windows Defender. I have seen computers running WD as their primary defense riddled with spyware and other malware. WD also uses significantly more system resources compared to others.

      I don’t pimp anti-viruses, so I’ll leave all of you to Google around and figure out what works for you — there are a number of good ones. All of them are, at some level, intrusive and badger you with upsells unless you’re very careful with the opt-outs. Just as it’s usually a good idea not to order fish in a steakhouse, it’s also a good idea not to get your Internet security software from an operating system/office software company. 🙂

  6. Security codes on credit cards are strictly for automatic processing systems to help verify that the user possesses an unexpired original credit card. Giving it over the phone would allow a cold calling scammer, or even a malicious service representative within a company, to steal the card. Reputable companies will never ask for it, over the phone or email, like they will never ask for a password or ATM pin.

    Websites that accept the code never allow a human to see the code; they pass it by an encrypted connection to the credit cards servers for verification. Encryption procedures are verified by companies that issue “certificates”, and modern computers have a built in list of trusted encryption certificate providers. Technically, a skeezy website could steal the code as well, but no reputable company would issue them an encryption certificate, so (in theory) your browser would flag the lack of trusted certificate. Because not everyone uses the same software, asking for the code online is not universal.

    All this protection is for naught when companies are not straight forward with their customers.

  7. Lots of computer nerds on this blog which is not surprising. If this problem doesn’t get fixed Jack, go for the top! You know how to do it.

  8. I know others have already pointed this out, but some tips from someone in IT:
    1. McAfee (now owned not by john McAfee actually, but intel) and Norton are generally loathed as AVs, partially because they try to do so much more than be an Antivirus, and in trying to do everything great end up doing nothing great…or acceptable.

    2. If you are running windows 8, 8.1, or windows 10, you can saftely uninstall any McAfee software (Start menu > type “remove programs” > enter; as you have Windows Defender installed on your system by default.

    3. If you are on windows 7, you may wish to upgrade to 10 for Windows Defender, or use Microsoft security Essentials

    4. If you feel the need for a more premium protection, I often set up clients with Malware Bytes Anti Malware Premium, available on their website (MalwareBytes Anti Malware also has a free standalone scanner that is very good)

    5. I really like this blog and am thankful for the service you provide, and would leap at the opportunity to give back. If you need computer assistance you have my email, I may be able to provide adequate remote assistance to help fix problems.

  9. Sweeney Todd (Sweeney in his fury and grief determined that half the human race were so cruel and corrupt that they deserved to die, and that they made the other half so miserable that it was merciful to murder them too)

    Insert comment about the worst pies in London.

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