And we should trust our computer security to you?

I don’t know if this is a farce, a comedy, or a tragedy…


When my wife purchased her Toshiba notebook (three years ago), it came with McAfee Internet Security preloaded.

When I purchased my Gateway notebook (two years ago), it came with McAfee Total Security preloaded.

We both auto-renewed for a year (I think). McAfee was obtrusive at times–the update process is the only thing I know that seems able to use 100% of both cores in my Core 2 Duo, hanging the machine until it finishes–but had, for a while, top ratings. More recently? Not so much.


My wife’s one-user McAfee Internet Security license expires in a few days. She deliberately turned off autorenew. My three-user McAfee Total Security license expires in January. I had autorenew on.

But my wife’s doing volunteer work that requires her to visit sites that I might not choose to visit. She needs topnotch online security more than I do. So…

Well, I thought, there should be an easy way to add her to my Total Security license, so her software gets upgraded; I’ll pay the autorenew rate for both machines.

Not so easy, as it turns out. After struggling to make sense of McAfee’s online support, the only answer was for her to TOTALLY UNINSTALL her protection, leaving her computer wholly unprotected, then download Total Security after going to my McAfee page. Of course, if anything went wrong with the download, well, she’d be totally unprotected–the instructions required her to wholly remove the software before doing the new install. Provide a code so she could simply attach to my license? Nah, that would be too logical.

Well, OK. Thinking about it, and the likelihood that we’ll upgrade her notebook in the next year or so, maybe she should go ahead and renew her McAfee. I’d turn off my autorenewal and switch to Microsoft Security Essentials instead…and if that seemed inadequate, I’d definitely be able to buy a new copy of Norton, McAfee, AVG or something else for $40 or less (as opposed to the $80 McAfee wanted to autorenew my Total Security).

The chaos

My wife–who has two masters degrees, who taught computer programming at one point, who is a first-rate analyst–followed McAfee’s instructions for renewal. And wound up with an about-to-expire existing subscription and a new one-year/three-user subscription, which she’d need to download. For $70.


So she went to technical support…an online chat, similar to the one I’d endured, but worse.

After wasting half an hour or so, she got the new subscription canceled and refunded (I’ll check the credit card account online to make sure that’s actually happened, and she does have a confirmation number).

She found a different “renewal” link on the account page. But, whoops, it seems to go to an order for a one-year subscription, not a renewal…although this time, it’s $40, not $70, and it’s a three-user subscription. Nahh…

Now, she’s turned autorenew back on. Will it actually autorenew, since she only has a few days? If not…well, if she does the renewal, it seems as though it requires her to download the product again. And avoiding all that hassle is the only reason she was willing to pay the higher price.

To sum up:

  • The link in McAfee’s email explicitly leads to the wrong place, adding a second subscription for the same software.
  • So far, we’ve been unable to find a route that actually allows you to do something that is, explicitly, continuing your subscription for another year…except by having a standing autorenew.
  • McAfee seems to want twice as much to renew a subscription as they do for a new one…maybe, or maybe not, depending on which set of links you follow.
  • Oh, did I mention that it seems to regard her fully valid Visa card has expired? It would take a new Mastercard number but not, apparently, a new Visa number.

The outcome

I don’t actually know yet. We’re hoping the autorenew takes. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure what to do. I know I can go buy an actual physical copy (CD and all) of Total Security for $40 if I do it by Saturday. I know she has a lot better things to do with her time.

And I know this: If McAfee has screwed up their renewal, pricing, link and other structures this badly, it leaves me in considerable doubt that their computer protection is as top-notch as they claim.

(I’ll add this: We used Norton for years, but at some point it became too intrusive. Norton never, never, ever had this kind of renewal incompetence associated with it.)


If someone from McAfee feels offended by this, there’s a simple solution: You need to provide us–my wife, who I can put you in contact with–with a straightforward working procedure by which her subscription continues to be valid for another year, without having to download the whole damn package once again. Seems like that should be simple. It’s called renewal: You may have heard of the concept. Or not.

4 Responses to “And we should trust our computer security to you?”

  1. ahniwa says:

    Farce, comedy, tragedy … it seems like an overreaction. Not in terms of being frustrated with McAfee support – by all means, I was frustrated just reading about it, and I’ve devoted similar blog posts in the past to the same purpose.

    But honestly, having to uninstall your antivirus for a short period of time isn’t likely to kill your machine. I don’t feel like the virus-bots are waiting just outside the door for that antivirus to go away. There’s a lot of redundancy in protection from most threats (if you’re not actively surfing questionable sites), in terms of hardware firewalls, software firewalls, malware scanners, built-in Windows protection, and antivirus.

    If you’re really concerned, you could always download the new package (but not install), run a full scan, unplug from the web, uninstall the old package, restart, install the new package, plug back into the web, and you’re done.

    I’m probably missing some of the complexities here, but it still feels a little paranoid, to me.

  2. walt says:

    [Rescued from spam: Spam Karma 2 thinks tumblr is a wasteland of spam…]

    Honestly? I encountered malware when checking out a supposed liblog. If you disable your protection suite, “malware scanners, built-in Windows protection, and antivirus” simply aren’t there. Sure, the router and Windows firewalls are there.

    Would I be this cautious? Hard to say, but it’s not my machine. Is my wife being paranoid? No, I don’t think so; based on past experience, “the virus-bots are waiting just outside the door for that antivirus to go away” isn’t too far off the mark. And, as I say, the work she does on her notebook requires her to visit sites that might be sketchy by some standards. (Consider the first line of this comment: at least one plugin considers tumblr to be sketchy.)

  3. ahniwa says:

    Your points are valid, of course, but that’s exactly why I’d argue against a protection suite and for standalone products instead. Keep your anti-virus and your firewall and your malware-killer in separate baskets, so to speak, and it won’t be such a big deal if one malfunctions or, in this case, needs to take a little update time.

    Re: your more recent post, McAfee sounds like a nightmare and now I’m double-glad that I don’t bother to buy “premium” security suites. It may work well for you, but it really seems like a racket to me.

  4. walt says:

    I guess I think of “anti-virus” and “malware-killer” as being the same product. I’m migrating to Microsoft Security Essentials and the Windows firewall, and we’ll see how it goes. Maintaining multiple subscription products is really a bother… and, of course, “a little update time” depends on what else you need to be doing at that point. I’m certainly not arguing with your decision *not* to have a name-brand security suite!