Firms Allege McAfee Lied, While Consumers Get A Refund

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Businesses wait for a response over McAfee’s false positive, while consumers are offered a cash reimbursement

Security firm McAfee has offered to cover the expenses incurred by consumers hit by last week’s anti-virus update which crippled computers running Windows XP – but has not made a similar offer to the larger group of business uers affected.

Last week, McAfee issued an anti-virus update, which mistakenly identified a vital Windows file as malware, crippling windows XP systems. The company maintains that only a small proportion of its customers were affected, and the chief executive David DeWatt has said in a blog that  “the vast majority of affected users were back up and running smoothly within hours.” However, users commenting on that blog and elsewhere claim that the number affected and the extent of the damage, was much larger.

Cash for false positives

McAfee has offered to pay the costs of repairing PCs for home users, or those with home offices, in a page aimed at consumers who fell victim to the false positive incident .” If you have already incurred costs to repair your PC as a result of this issue, we’re committed to reimbursing reasonable expenses,” the page promises. It also offers a two-year extension to the McAfee subscription fee, to anyone whose PC was “severely impaired” by the incident – “because we value our loyal customers.”

Details of how to apply for reimbursement will be posted on the site in the next few days, says McAfee.

Business users may prove more of a can of worms, however. There is no corresponding offer of reimbursement on the support page for business users, although it is believed that many more of them fell victim to the problem, and there are many angry comments on DeWatt’s blog. Among others, one claims a hospital lost half its computers the day of the incident, and ten to twenty percent of them were still broken the next day.

Some comments clearly allege DeWatt’s attempts to play down the impact of the event are lies, and many echo a threat of a class action law suit for compensation.

“It is not an understatement by any means to say this was the single biggest crisis that has ever faced you or one of your competitors,” said one comment. “The way you handled the problem after it was discovered, and even after the problem was reported in the media, was absolutely pathetic.”

Despite publishing the responses, McAfee is still silent on the question of any compensation for business users – almost certainly for legal reasons, according to commentators. “Legal redress for such things tends to be murky as lost productivity is generally hard to define and product licenses tend to be full of caveats for this and that,” warned analyst Rob Bamforth of Quocirca in an email to eWEEK Europe.

In any case, whether McAfee or not winds up paying much compensation, it stands to lose a lot in future business. “Poor service, poor quality and failed systems are easy to apologise for, but do little to improve negative customer sentiment, which travels further and faster in a connected world,” said Bamforth.

Auto update problems are widespread in other software, said Bamforth, and large corporations may take the option of “staging” updates – installing them on their own schedule after testing. But if users stop trusting a vendors’ updates, we may see worse trouble, said Bamforth: “We may see more challenging problems hit users who really should have installed a particular update, but also vendors as their user base becomes less synchronised to the latest version, and more a mish mash of past revisions. The industry has to try harder to not make any mistakes or better still work out how to stop them propagating and rippling through the system when they inevitably happen – that’s tricky in a hyper-connected world.”

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