Suit claims Symantec scares consumers on PC health

Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:04pm GMT

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(Reuters) - A lawsuit filed against Symantec Corp claims that the software maker seeks to persuade consumers to buy its products by scaring them with misleading information about the health of their computers.

James Gross, a resident of the state of Washington, filed the suit in District Court in San Jose, California on Tuesday, according to his attorneys.

A copy of the complaint provided to Reuters by Gross's attorneys alleges that Symantec distributes trial versions of its products that scan a consumer's system, then invariably report that harmful errors, privacy risks and other problems exists on the PC, regardless of the real condition of the machine.

A Symantec representative could not immediately comment on the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status.

The company uses that scanning software to market Norton Utilities, PC Tools Registry Mechanic and PC Tools Performance Toolkit software, according to the complaint.

Norton Utilities and PC Tools are products that Symantec says help improve the performance of PCs and keep online activities private.

"The software is falsely informing the consumer that errors are high priority and in addition it is falsely informing the consumer that their overall system health and privacy health is low," said Chandler Givens, an attorney with Edelson McGuire LLP, the firm that filed the suit on behalf of Gross.

He said that his firm tested other Symantec products, but was only able to find problems with the three mentioned in the complaint.

Symantec, the top maker of consumer anti-virus software, is the maker of Norton 360, Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus software.

Sales of all Symantec's consumer products -- including PC Tools and Norton Utilities -- rose 4 percent to $2 billion in its most-recent fiscal year.

The suit describes Norton Utilities and PC Tools as forms of "scareware," a common type of malicious software that causes pop-up messages to appear on computers telling users that they are infected with a virus.

"The truth, however, is that the scareware does not actually perform any meaningful evaluation of the user's computer system, or of the supposed 'errors' detected by the software," the complaint claims. "The scareware does not, and cannot, actually perform the valuable tasks represented by Symantec through its websites, advertising, and in-software display screens."

(Reporting By Jim Finkle; Editing by Phil Berlowitz; Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco)

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