Two new features designed to protect your privacy while you browse the Web and guard you against misleading SSIDs come to all three AVG suites in a service pack update.
Both of the new features are available to free and paid users, but the tracking ad blocker called AVG Do-Not-Track is the big one. It works similarly to Do Not Track Plus. While the toolbar is an optional browser add-on, AVG Do-Not-Track appears to be an automatic browser add-on install that can only be removed after the fact.
AVG evangelist Tony Anscombe said in a telephone interview that AVG created its more robust anti-tracking feature to "put control back in the hands of the user."
"The user won't see ads out of context to the page their on. There are obviously products out there that do this, but this is in AVG. We're making it mainstream," he said. That's no idle boast, either. AVG claims more than 100 million active users, the vast majority of whom use AVG Free.
To fine-tune AVG Do-Not-Track, click on the icon shaped like an eye and it'll tell you which ad networks and Web analytics are following you as you browse around. Each one will have an eye icon next to it. Click it to block that particular tracker, or use the Block All option at the bottom of the window.
The AVG add-on also activates the standard browser Do Not Track option for the browsers that support it, but its that standard Do Not Track's lack of effectiveness that has prompted software makers to jump into the fray.
In hands-on testing, AVG Do-Not-Track worked effectively and appeared to not slow down Web site loading times. Unlike Do Not Track Plus, which debuted in January, AVG's add-on does not rebuild your social networking buttons if you choose to deactivate them. The benefit of a social button rebuild is that you get to keep much of the modern Web's social functionality. AVG certainly has a better-looking app, though, and it's good to see a such a prominent security software vendor reacting quickly to a major security concern for once.
AVG has also included a less significant but still useful feature update that helps protect you when you're using public Wi-Fi networks. Called Wi-Fi Guard, it double-checks when you connect to a Wi-Fi network of the same name, but in a different location. This can prevent SSID name spoofing from snaring you. One situation that Anscombe suggested is for people who regularly connect to a Starbucks network, where the SSID is identical across multiple locations, and have their Wi-Fi auto-connect to "Starbucks." A faked Starbucks network would be detected, and AVG would open a window asking you if you really wanted to connect to "Starbucks."
Other minor changes in the AVG 2012 Service Pack include adding P2P clients to the AVG Advisor feature; making rootkit scans part of the whole computer scan, as opposed to a separate option; and reducing the size of the installer from 65 MB to 48 MB. But clearly, AVG's Do-Not-Track has the most potential to change people's browsing habits, and could lead to other security vendors extending more Do Not Track-related options to their customers.
Correction Monday, March 26, 6:05 p.m. PST: This story originally reported that the Do-Not-Track add-on could only be installed with the AVG Toolbar. AVG has confirmed that the two are separate installations.