Biting the hand that feeds you

May 25, 2015

Webroot is a large, privately held Colorado-based company that makes cloud-based software for consumers, businesses and enterprises against Internet threats. The company claims to serve over 7 million consumers.

Recently one of my readers, John B., a very satisfied Webroot customer for many years, contacted me about how the company began introducing annoying pop-up advertising disguised as a feature and then, when he complained, lied to him about it.

He said a Webroot pop-up began to appear on his screen a few weeks ago, requesting him to view a supposed security report. Instead it was a sales pitch in disguise. It popped up three or four times a day, plus every time he rebooted.

He assumed he needed to change a setting. But there wasn't one. So he went to the Webroot site, sent a message asking how to turn off this new and obtrusive annoyance, and received this response:

“The Personalized Security Report is a new feature designed to inform our users about how they are being protected, and show detailed threat information related to them. There is currently no way to disable these messages, … but if you open and look at the security report it will stop coming up to remind you. The report is available once every three months or so, and the messaging campaign lasts about a week.”

John found their response offensive and missing the point, because the “new feature” was an advertisement and nothing more. And in spite of their assurances, it never went away. When he tweeted a complaint, he drew this response from @Webroot, their Twitter account:

"The in product notice should not be constant. This indicates an underlying issue. Please contact support.”

John tweeted back and explained that he was told by support that the message was not "an underlying issue," but in fact a new “feature” they had built into the product.

They tweeted back:

“The quickest way to get visibility on this issue would be to submit a feature request. Thank you.”

So, in summary, Webroot adds annoying pop up ads that appear throughout the day and can’t be turned off. You complain to the company and you're told to complain on the community forum or ask for a "feature request" change.

I reached out to their public relations using the PR email address on the company’s website, and asked if they could comment on John’s complaint. Surprisingly, I never heard from a PR person, but instead received an email, as if I had filed a technical request:

“Thank you for contacting Webroot Technical Support. The Webroot Personalized Security report is not an advertisement; it is something that can be viewed by the customer, which gives them an abbreviated report card of what activity Webroot performed on their computer. This is a consumer version of the more extensive reporting that the Webroot agent is capable of in business environments.”

I visited their forum and found about 100 posts from customers complaining about this same issue, with many threatening to cancel their subscription. Some even complained that the pop-up covered up parts of the program they needed to use.

Unfortunately, treating the customer poorly after the purchase is something that’s all too common. Imposing an inconvenience or interruption that slows down productivity is all too common. Considering that we interact with dozens of software products and services each day, it can become exasperating.

This week alone I experienced issues with several companies that hid their 800 number, even though I pay for their services. Searching for one on Google brought up spoofing sites posing as the software company and offering an 800 number, but then charging for support.

Another website popped up annoying adds that could not be closed, and a site that I signed up to try (Houzz) has been bombarding me with daily emails; opting out does not prevent the ads from continuing. The New York Times website, which I pay more than $20 for each month, now has introduced pop-up ads that delay my ability to read the news.

And many sites require you to enter an email address to just learn about their product. Then they remind you daily if you don’t buy.

More and more companies seem to have lost the balance between providing a good product and subjecting their customers to ads and annoyances. They treat their customers, not as people to be valued and respected, but those they can harass to sell more.

If you’ve experienced similar problems, let me know. The best recourse is to shine a light on those companies that exhibit bad behavior.

*****

Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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