The web site whose members harass trans activists around the world

I hadn’t even heard of Kiwi Farms until last week, but they are some bad, bad dudes, according to this article in The Guardian by Alex Hern:

You don’t need to know much about the online hate forum Kiwi Farms. In my first draft of this newsletter, I included a full history of the site, from its days as a spinoff of the far-right message board 8chan that was dedicated to the full-time harassment of a single internet micro-celebrity, to its involvement in the Christchurch shootings and multiple targets who went on to take their own lives. I discussed the detail of whether the site has an ideology that can be pinned down: the extent to which it is far-right, white supremacist, radically transphobic – or simply nihilistic and nasty.

But you don’t actually need to know the grimy details. Suffice to say that Kiwi Farms is, like a long list of similar forums before and after it, somewhere that proudly fights for the label of “the worst place on the internet”.

Over the last year, the forum has focused on one person in particular: Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti, who attracted its ire for using her platform to discuss the wave of anti-transgender legislation sweeping across the US. Sorrenti, who streams as Keffals, was subject to a growing wave of harassment, as Kiwi Farms coordinated takedown requests to Twitch, shared her personal information and contrived to get her “swatted”. A fake shooting threat, sent to police in London, Ontario, where she lived, led to an armed response unit being sent to her house.

Similar attacks have ended in disaster before, and Sorrenti was only arrested and held for questioning. After, she fled to a nearby hotel, and posted a picture of her cat on the bed to reassure followers that she was OK. Forum users meticulously compared the sheets in the photo with those of every single hotel in the area, finding a match through online booking sites and resuming the onslaught of harassment, sending endless pizzas to her, by name, to let her know she’d been found.

I think the tendency is to ridicule these guys — and it is always guys — as a bunch of shut-in incels living in their mothers’ basements.

But this movement has escalated from online harassment, which is bad enough. Once you start stalking someone by tracking their locations from country to country, and then sharing those details with your mentally unbalanced followers, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed.

If they were doing this to me, I’d be tempted to buy a gun.

Which just plays into the long-term game plan of the gun lobby, I know. (Flood the world with guns so that people feel unsafe and buy more guns.)

But I’d still might do it.

Incidentally, that previous in-depth article that Alex Hern mentions can be found here.

BTW, pity the poor company in New Zealand called Kiwi Farms, an agricultural company.

One of the largest password managers has its second major data breach.

This is bad news:

One of the world’s biggest password managers with 25 million users, LastPass, has confirmed that it has been hacked. In an advisory published on August 25, Karim Toubba, the LastPass CEO, said that an unauthorized party had stolen “portions of source code and some proprietary LastPass technical information.”

What was accessed during the LastPass network breach?

The breach appears to have been of the development servers, facilitated by a compromise of a LastPass developer account and took place two weeks ago. Incident responders have contained the breach, and LastPass says there is no evidence of further malicious activity. Toubba also confirmed that neither has evidence been found of any customer data or encrypted password vaults being accessed.

Has your LastPass master password or password vault been compromised?

LastPass users will, of course, be concerned that a hacker could have got hold of the keys to their online kingdom: their passwords. However, LastPass has made it clear that, courtesy of the ‘zero knowledge’ architecture implemented, master passwords are never stored. “LastPass can never know or gain access to our customers’ master password,” Toubba said, “this incident did not compromise your master password.” As such, LastPass says that no action is required by users in regard to their password vaults.

Not their first rodeo

While LastPass should be congratulated for the transparency being displayed in response to this incident, it isn’t the first time that users of the password manager have had to deal with news of a breach. In June 2015, the company confirmed that hackers had accessed the network. Then, unlike now, users were prompted to change master passwords when logging in.

I use a password manager because I never use the same password twice for any app or web site, and I use long secure passwords my password manager picks for me. Then it saves those passwords in my password vault for easy reference.

The downside of this: my entire financial, business and personal life would be exposed to bad actors if that vault were ever compromised because the password manager company was sloppy about security.

It’s extraordinarily difficult to prevent every kind of network intrusion. Even the best security experts have a hard time keeping up.

But I’d be wary of LastPass if it ever happens again. And I don’t care how much the company says this latest breach didn’t expose customers’ password vaults, I’d change ASAP my master account password anyway.

Because LastPass is part of GoTo, a $1.262-billion dollar company. Companies that large cannot be trusted to tell the entire truth on something that would so obviously endanger their bottom line.

High tech is stepping-in to closely monitor students with hall passes

Some schools are using wireless technologies and a company called e-HallPass to track students and the amount of time they spend out of class on a hall pass. The trend has some in education worried, notes writer Joseph Cox in this Vice article:

Admins can then access data collected through the software, and view a live dashboard showing details on all passes. e-HallPass can also stop meet-ups of certain students and limit the amount of passes going to certain locations, the website adds, explicitly mentioning “vandalism and TikTok challenges.” Many of the schools Motherboard identified appear to use e-HallPass specifically on Chromebooks, according to student user guides and similar documents hosted on the schools’ websites, though it also advertises that it can be used to track students on their personal cell phones.

EdSurge reported that some people had taken to Change.org with a petition to remove the “creepy” system from a specific school. Motherboard found over a dozen similar petitions online, including one regarding Independence High School signed nearly 700 times which appears to have been written by a group of students.

“We are expected to be young adults and by this E-HP system taking place this year we have a great amount of freedom and independence being taken away,” the petition reads. “Many students that attend Indy have come together and decided to petition against this new system that has been created. We, as the students feel as if we’re being watched and monitored at all times throughout our school day, which is extremely uncomfortable.”

Eduspire did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

My biggest problem with this, aside from invasion of privacy concerns, is that any new policies used as a form of control, coercion and punishment for students have always landed most heavily on students of color. I would also be concerned that it would be a way for cash-strapped schools to easily rid themselves of students with behavioral issues, rather than being forced to provide services that might help those students overcome their difficulties.

On the other hand, schools are different places from when I went to school.

During my public education years, angry kids with loud mouths and chronic anti-social opposition to authority almost always came from angry parents with loud mouths and chronic anti-social opposition to authority. But those kids and their parents were outliers.

The internet has created vast new pools of angry parents with loud mouths and chronic anti-social opposition to authority, presumably making kids like that more common in schools than they used to be.

That has to have created untold new headaches for teachers and administrators. Perhaps the old honor system of hall pass monitoring is obsolete in this day and age.

That part about TikTok challenges in particular caught my attention.

I feel as if I had it easy to have gone to school in a time when wearing the right things and saying the right things only occupied my time during school and not during nights and weekends.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Game sites respond to blatantly homophobic effort to remove NYC pride flags from Spider-Man

It’s no secret that the tech industry in general, and the gaming industry in particular, can attract more than their share of cretinous bro types, full of themselves — and misogyny and homophobia.

So it’s nice when part of that industry steps forward and does the right thing in a very public way.

First, some background:

If you are a fan of Marvel’s Spider-Man you’ve no doubt been aware since 2018 that there are pride flags interspersed in the game throughout Manhattan. Checkpoint Gaming explained at the time:

Ryan Benno, one of the developers on the game, responded to a popular tweet highlighting Spider-Man in front of the flag making it clear that the choice was deliberate.

Further to that the game includes a secret achievement that asks you to photograph secret locations around the city which includes this particular flag adjacent to a rainbow mural. Upon taking the photograph you receive an on screen prompt that this location represents the Stonewall Inn, a location steeped in LGBTIQA+ history.

While it may seem like a small detail this does point to active decision by the team at Insomniac. The flag and the fact that it can be found across the city for Spider-Man to perch on for selfies shows a recognition to the large impact the LGBTIQA+ community has had on New York. While this small moment might have brought a smile to my face I cannot imagine what it would do for younger members of our community who so desperately need to see welcoming imagery in the media.

A subsequent version of the game, Spider-Man Remastered, included the NYC Pride flags and, as far as I can tell, may have added a few more.

But recently some bad actors in the genre have been uploading a version to popular modding sites that pointedly removes the pride flags.

How big a loser do you have to be to take the time to remove something so ancillary, yet so positive, using a game mod? (If you are unfamiliar with mods, read this article.)

I’ve been doing LGBTQ civil rights work for a very long time, and this becomes more true the longer I am around homophobes: the more obsessed someone is about gays and gay sex, the higher the likelihood that they are actually seeking it out in secretive ways on the side. I’d bet the person(s) who did this pride flag removal mod spends a lot of time on Grindr hating themselves.

Anyway, back to the mods that removed the pride flags.

People on mod sites had become aware that people, quite possibly the same people on all mod sites, were uploading this anti-LGBT PC game mod for Spider-Man Remastered.

To the credit of the people who run some of the most popular mod sites, they acted quickly:

NexusMods and ModDB, two of the biggest online sites for PC game mods, have removed a project that cut the in-game pride flags from the recently-released PC port of Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered. As NexusMods explained in a blog post, the mod was uploaded to its site by a brand new account with no modding history, which the site’s administrators suspect is a secondary account for one of the site’s users — a “sock puppet” account.

“It was very clearly done deliberately to be a troll mod,” NexusMods writes. “The fact the user needed to make a sock puppet like a coward to upload the mod showed their intent to troll and that they knew it would not be allowed. Had they not been a coward and had they used their main account instead, we would have simply removed the mod and told them that we did not want to host it, only banning them if they reuploaded it again after being fairly warned. The creation of the sock puppet removed any doubt and made it a very easy decision for us.”

As well as removing the mod, NexusMods says it’s banned both “the sock puppet account and the user’s main account.” The mod replaced the pride flags found around New York City with the United States flag, which is frequently seen in the original game.

This is a hopeful development during a time when anti-LGBT hatred is starting to make a comeback in very public ways.

You can read the rest of Jon Porter’s article in The Verge here.

How Silicon Valley keeps screwing up our national transportation ambitions

Rhett Jones over at Gizmodo has an interesting interview with Paris Marx, author of the new book “Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation.”

Of course, the subject of that charlatan Elon Musk comes up repeatedly, and not in a good way.

Gizmodo: How would you rate the last 20 years of tech trying to tackle transportation?

Paris Marx: Geez, uh, maybe I can be generous and say like a D-plus, but I’d probably say an F.

Gizmodo: Well, that’s not too bad.

Marx: They’ve certainly had a whole load of ideas for transportation and how technology could be integrated into the transportation system to make improvements. But I would say in many cases, the promises that were made about those technologies simply weren’t well realized. Whether we’re looking at something like Uber and all the early promises that it made about reducing traffic congestion, improving convenience, and serving people who are underserved by transportation as well as making things better for drivers. Certainly there was a convenience element to it. And as I think we’re seeing recently, a lot of people are finding it less convenient than it used to be. But on those other counts, it hasn’t really provided benefits. We could look at self-driving cars and how that was going to transform the way that we get around and how it really has not been able to follow through on that. And it looks unlikely that it will ever have the kind of wide-ranging impacts that we were told it would.

We can look at things like micromobility, we can look at Tesla, and the electric vehicle. The electric vehicle is certainly an essential contribution to reducing emissions in the transport system, but treating it as a silver bullet or as though it’s going to be the only thing that we need to do is wrong and misleading. Then we can also look at the technologies that have been integrated into the car itself. And that’s pushed less by Silicon Valley tech companies and in many cases are things that have been developed with with the automakers. And certainly there are some benefits to some of those systems like lane keeping systems and things like that. But if we look at the entertainment systems, these automakers and the tech companies who make things like CarPlay and Android Auto, their desire to expand the size of those kind of screens. Studies increasingly show that they’re making people more distracted rather than less. So I think that we’re not seeing a whole lot of benefit there, but a lot of potential problems.

Gizmodo: Everyone is just watching Tesla right now, anticipating one of two outcomes: it’s going to be the most valuable company ever or it’s going to zero in a few years.

Marx: Yeah, absolutely. Edward Niedermayer, who wrote this book, Ludicrous, kind of describes how early on, Tesla was very much this electric vehicle company and it promised that it was going to create this luxury vehicle and it was going to use the proceeds from that to make a more affordable vehicle and then use the proceeds from that to make an even more affordable vehicle. There’s this real shift, because there’s a recognition that that strategy is not really working and it’s not bringing in the money that’s necessary. Tesla has continually had problems raising the amount of money that it needs to actually get its cars out into the world.

And so that is really a moment when you see Musk starts to make more of these big promises, like autonomous vehicles, like battery swapping stations and things like that in order to excite investors to buy the stock, to inflate the price of the stock by expecting that there’s going to be larger returns in the future when these big promises are realized. And even just recently, Elon Musk said that if they can’t solve self-driving technology, then the company is basically going to be useless. And so you can really see how the company has evolved from this electric vehicle company into something that is certainly more than that. And its valuation is [dependent on] that.

Gizmodo: Do you think Biden’s instinct to keep Elon Musk at arm’s length is a wise move? Or does Elon have a point about the White House backing fossil fuel-dependent manufacturers and his other competitors?

Marx: Sure, I think it kind of makes sense for Biden to have Musk at arm’s length. But it’s not so much because Biden is supporting fossil fuel companies, though he certainly hasn’t embarked on the climate measures that he’s promised. I think that it’s more that the general mood on the tech industry has changed and Elon Musk, it feels like, has changed as well. But also, Biden has really come to power as someone who is strongly supportive of unions. And he’s talked a lot about that during his time in office. And the earlier proposal that they had for electric vehicle tax credits involved additional money for vehicles that were produced by a factory where the workforce was unionized. So I think it kind of makes sense that the Biden administration hasn’t been as close to Musk because he’s continually opposed unions and continues to oppose unions. And Elon Musk himself has become more kind of powerful and doesn’t need to have that relationship to the government that he once needed with Obama or the Trump administration.

Gizmodo: Tesla’s had this nice head start. But incumbent competitors and new start-ups are increasingly making progress. Have you gotten any kind of read on how Tesla compares to its rivals on an ethical level?

Marx: In pointing out issues that Tesla has had is not to say that traditional carmakers have never had their own series of problems. I believe some of the Japanese or Korean automakers, I think some of their plants in the US don’t use unionized labor. And the American automakers have had a lot of issues in their history with safety and have certainly had their own issues with labor, layoffs, and fighting unions. I do think, though, that a lot of the more labor-oriented issues are worked out over the occasional fights with unions around compensation and layoffs. Whereas Musk’s company seems to have much deeper problems. There are also very poor manufacturing practices that leave the workers at higher risk of injury but also result in lower quality vehicles. And the statements of the workers themselves suggest that Tesla does have a notably racist workplace. A lot of women have spoken about the sexism at Tesla as well. And that’s not something that you hear as much from the other automakers where [workers] are unionized. So I do think that if we’re kind of grading the different automakers, it’s not to say that the traditional ones are incredible and great and there are no problems there. But I do think that ultimately Tesla is worse if we’re thinking about ethics.

The interview is long, but worth the time if you geek out over things such as the intersection of tech, government, and transportation policy. Even if you don’t, it’s probably worth the read.

You can read the rest at this link.

Meanwhile, now that we know that Musk used his pie-in-the-sky Hyperloop bullshit basically as an attempt to kill high-speed rail in California, it’s useful to look back at articles (like this 2018 one by Kate Baggaley at NBC News) about the Hyperloop and marvel at how much Musk was able to get credulous tech reporters from our largest news organizations to believe every fantasy that came out spilling out of Musk’s mouth.

NBC News Headline: Elon Musk’s hyperloop dream may come true — and soon

Subhed: “It’s happening far faster than I would have ever expected, and it’s happening all over the world.”

OMG LOLOL.

Elon Musk is becoming his company’s worst enemy

Some journalists — few, actually — have long been saying that Elon Musk is a showman and a charlatan, while most others offered up uncritical coverage.

That is changing. One example is this article from Bloomberg by Ira Boudway and Kyle Stock:

Dennis Levitt got his first Tesla, a blue Model S, in 2013, and loved it. “It was so much better than any car I’ve ever driven,” the 73-year-old self-storage company executive says.

He bought into the brand as well as Elon Musk, Tesla Inc.’s charismatic chief executive officer, purchasing another Model S the following year and driving the first one across the country. In 2016, he stood in line at a showroom near his suburban Los Angeles home to be one of the first to order two Model 3s — one for himself, the other for his wife.

“I was a total Musk fanboy,” Levitt says.

Was, because while Levitt still loves his Teslas, he’s soured on Musk. “Over time, his public statements have really come to bother me,” Levitt said, citing the CEO’s spats with US President Joe Biden, among others. “He acts like a seven-year-old.”

Before it was reported Musk had an affair with Sergey Brin’s wife, which he’s denied; before his slipshod deal, then no-deal, to acquire Twitter Inc.; before the revelation he fathered twins with an executive at his brain-interface startup Neuralink; before SpaceX fired employees who called him “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment”; before his daughter changed her name and legal gender after his history of mocking pronouns; before an article said SpaceX paid an employee $250,000 to settle a claim he sexually harassed her, allegations he’s called untrue; Musk’s behavior was putting off prospective customers and perturbing some Tesla owners.

The trends have shown up in one consumer survey and market research report after another: Tesla commands high brand awareness, consideration and loyalty, and customers are mostly delighted by its cars. Musk’s antics, on the other hand? They could do without.

Creative Strategies, a California-based customer-experience measurer, mentioned owner frustration with Musk in a study it published in April. A year earlier, research firm Escalent found Musk was the most negative aspect of the Tesla brand among electric-vehicle owners surveyed.

It’s nice to see the rest of the world wake up to what a snake oil salesman and anti-social jerk he is.

Rest of the article at this link.

Should taxpayers subsidize America’s computer chip industry?

Judd Legum over at Popular.Info has a new article up about legislation in Congress to give a great deal of money to America’s domestic computer chip industry.

Millions of children are living in poverty, the planet is warming, and inflation is reaching new heights. Now, a bipartisan coalition in Congress has come together — to push for $76 billion in subsidies to the highly-profitable domestic computer chip industry.

Yesterday, the Senate voted to advance the CHIPS Act by a 64-34 vote. Those voting in favor included 49 Democrats and 15 Republicans. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 33 Republicans were opposed.

The bill includes a combination of grants and tax credits for chip manufacturers designed to encourage domestic production. The money would subsidize the creation of new plants, known as fabs, and the retooling of existing facilities. The corporations expected to benefit the most are Intel, Texas Instruments, Micron Technology, Global Foundries, and Samsung.

The legislation is intended to address a very real problem that emerged during the pandemic — an acute shortage of chips. That shortage drove up costs for goods that rely on chips, such as cars, and impeded economic growth.

But even the most adamant supporters of the CHIPS Act concede that the legislation would not help address the current shortage. Fabs take multiple years to construct. Meanwhile, the shortage is already easing and some analysts are predicting that supply will outstrip demand “in the second half of 2022 or 2023.”

Another rationale for the legislation is that about 90% of the production of the most advanced chips are concentrated in Taiwan. This, according to some, is a national security threat because Taiwan could someday be invaded by China. If that occured, the United States could lose access to the most advanced chips.

But potential instability in Taiwan isn’t just a national security problem. It is also an economic risk that chip manufacturers have to address. The United States is a large consumer market that chip manufacturers need to reach. Manufacturing within the United States is attractive because it provides a consistent way to supply a large market irrespective of political instability in Taiwan or any other region. So while other countries are providing subsidies to chip manufacturers, that doesn’t mean that the industry will abandon manufacturing in the United States.

Legum goes on to note:

Intel, the loudest proponent of the CHIPS Act, has the resources to invest in new plants. In 2021, Intel collected $20 billion in profits. Its CEO, Pat Gelsinger, received a compensation package worth $176 million. Since the start of the pandemic, it has spent $16.6 billion on stock buybacks — a strategy that rewards stockholders by boosting share prices.

I dunno. Our government gives subsidies for a lot worse. (Fossil fuel corporations, I’m looking at you.)

If chip shortages can jack up the prices of so many other things, and if there really are national security concerns about our historical chip suppliers, I think a jump-start to get our domestic supply up to speed doesn’t seem like the worst thing to do with taxpayer money.

Although I’d monitor the shit out of Intel once they got the money, and add tons of legal strings to the funds for every recipient. I don’t trust Intel any more than I trust China to do what’s best for America.

You can read the rest of Legum’s article here.

Amazon files suit against Facebook group and its alleged fake product reviews

Wait. There are fake product reviews on Amazon?

Say it ain’t so!

The Wall Street Journal (paywall alert) has the details:

One of the Facebook groups, called “Amazon Product Review,” had more than 43,000 members. Facebook removed the group this year, Amazon said, adding that it evaded Facebook’s detection by changing letters in phrases that might set off Facebook’s alarms.

Amazon didn’t disclose the names of the Facebook group administrators or their locations.

The Seattle-based company said it filed the suit in Washington state’s King County Superior Court.

Representatives for Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc., didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. lawmakers in 2019 questioned Amazon’s efforts to tackle fake reviews in a letter to then-Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. The Federal Trade Commission also in 2019 fined a retail website that paid a third party to post reviews on Amazon, in its first case against the use of fake paid reviews.

You can read the rest here.

This is why, when I try to research products on Amazon, I try to find some combination of high ratings and high numbers of reviews. But this story shows that, while that make sense much of the time, some bad online actors can produce thousands of fake reviews for a single product.

Zuckerberg is no longer the tech golden boy he never deserved to be

Mark Zuckerberg admitted this week during an employee Q&A session that he’s not the genius that everything thinks he is, that he really was just lucky to have assisted in designing Facebook at just the right time in history, and that he’s basically helpless in the face of real competition, a fickle social media market, and serious economic headwinds.

That will not, he added, prevent him from acting as if this is the fault of those under him, and taking his incompetence out on his employees so that his income will be less affected.

OK, I’ll admit that, although all of that is accurate, that is not what pampered overgrown Harvard boy Mark Zuckerberg said this week at that employee Q&A:

Facebook parent Meta wants to cut ties with workers who can’t meet newly raised performance expectations as the company prepares for an economic downturn, CEO Mark Zuckerberg bluntly revealed this week.

Zuckerberg’s frank admission came during a Q&A session with employees in which he warned that a recent slump in the markets “might be one of the worst downturns that we’ve seen in recent history.”

“Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,” Zuckerberg said during the meeting, according to Reuters.

“Part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is OK with me,” Zuckerberg added.

Zuckerberg indicated that Meta plans to slow its hiring plans for engineers by at least 30% this year – adding roughly 6,000 or 7,000 workers rather than the 10,000 it initially expected to hire. Some roles that are currently empty will stay unfilled as Meta dials up pressure on current employees.

Some of my best friends are geriatrics, so I’m not picking on them. But on Facebook, where I am Facebook friends with many older people, they are prone to share gardening, travel and quilting tips, along with pictures and video of their cats, dogs and grandchildren.

What they do not do is spend gobs of money trying to be hip, fashionable, or knowledgeable about music and what kinds of make-up the Kardashians are recommending.

So unless Facebook wants to become the online destination for burial plots and reverse mortgages, its time as a money-making juggernaut was going to be limited because once it amassed a critical mass of parents and grandparents on the platform, those 16-25-year-olds moved on, as they always do.

Plus, Facebook’s ability to make money off misinformation and undermining democracy around the world has also been seriously curtailed, but only after Zuckerberg was exposed as having baked totalitarian marketing into his business model.

I don’t want to see people lose their jobs, but I do get a bit of a thrill seeing Zuckerberg twisting in the wind. He deserves every dollar of lost income, and every second of people wondering in the press whether he was ever really all that special. Whether if he had gone to, say, U-Mass Lowell instead of Harvard, he would have ever had the success he had with Facebook.

Zuckerberg had a lot of lucky breaks.

And the same goes for Elon Musk, whose fortune emanated from a racist emerald mine in South Africa, and on whose Tesla business the auto giants Ford, GM and others are getting ready to open a can of electric-car whoop ass.

Add to this the fact that the obsequious coverage that Musk has enjoyed in much of the press has started to wash away now that he’s been exposed (Twitter, Boring Company, fully automated self-driving cars) as being the huckster he’s always been.

Tesla fan boys, there will always be. But if I had the money, I’d buy a Ford Lightning before I ever considered a Tesla. I’ll hazard a guess that will be mostly true with others as the major automakers start cranking out their own EVs and prices drop far below the high-end novelty prices Tesla has been able to charge so far.

Musk and Zuckerberg.

There is panic in Microsoft Defender land

This PC Mag article headline says it all: “WTF? Do I Have to Pay for Microsoft’s Defender Antivirus Now?”

Microsoft has offered antivirus protection with its operating systems as far back as 1993’s Microsoft Anti-Virus for MS-DOS. The current Microsoft Defender Antivirus started life as Microsoft AntiSpyware in 2005.

It was a bumpy ride, with the antivirus tool going through various names and sometimes earning below-zero scores in third-party tests, but with the release of Windows 10, Microsoft Defender Antivirus became a respectable (if not glorious) malware-fighting tool. One consistent factor through all these changes—Microsoft’s protection has always been free.

Is that changing? Many readers were alarmed at the recent announcement of Microsoft Defender for Individuals, which—as Microsoft’s descriptive page makes clear—is only available as part of a paid subscription to the Microsoft 365 cloud-based office service. What happened to free?

If every PC on the internet has antivirus protection, life gets tougher for malware writers. It’s harder for viruses to spread and less lucrative to plant data-stealing Trojans when most potential victims have antivirus protection. Even ransomware mills can’t strongarm as much money from victims when protection is universal.

That’s why Microsoft designed Defender to power up on any PC that doesn’t have third-party antivirus. Near-universal antivirus provides a kind of herd immunity.

Does it work? Well, Microsoft has the numbers to show it does. Representatives have pointed out that the Malicious Software Removal Tool you see with almost every Windows Update does more than just level up Defender. Unless you opt out, it provides detailed (but not personal) information to Microsoft, including your operating system, any malware detections, and what third-party antivirus may be installed. And studies based on this information show that even unprotected PCs benefit when most of their connections have antivirus.

It turns out the new app is only meant to run Windows Defender on non-Windows computers.

blog post by Vasu Jakkal(Opens in a new window), Microsoft’s Corporate VP for Security, Compliance, Identity, and Management, eventually makes it clear that this new offering strictly extends antivirus protection to platforms other than Windows. It doesn’t change the status of Microsoft Defender Antivirus. I should point out that the best macOS antivirus and Android security products almost certainly do a better job. Few are available for free, but then, this new cross-platform Defender also isn’t free.

Coincidentally, this morning I got the email shown at the bottom of this post.

You can download the app here.