Ina Fried

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Security Vendor AVG Tries to Bring Its Free-First Model to Mobile

AVG built a name for itself by offering free security software at a time when most others were charging.

AVG tablet-feature

The company is trying to do the same in mobile, where it has managed to get some 70 million downloads for its free Android security product, and is growing its active user base by about two million people each month.

“That’s very much the heritage of where we came from,” COO John Giamatteo said in an interview.

Things are a little different in mobile, of course. First of all, AVG faces competition not only from traditional security players but from such mobile-centric companies as Lookout and NQ Mobile.

The other big question is how to make money in mobile. Traditionally, security vendors offer a basic product for free and then try to upsell consumers on a paid or subscription product with added features.

Giamatteo said that AVG and others are certainly doing that, but added that making money in mobile probably means thinking of other areas, such as advertising or serving up ad recommendations.

As others in the space have done, AVG is also moving beyond malware protection. It has a new “tune-up” product that helps customers monitor things such as battery drain, storage space and data use; additional privacy products are slated for introduction this quarter.

While AVG’s primary approach is still to get users to download its products from Google Play, it has dipped its toe into distribution deals. A pact with Samsung sees its software preloaded on some phones in the United Kingdom, and another arrangement with Qualcomm has AVG as the preferred partner on the reference designs put out by the chipmaker.

It may have taken the traditional PC security vendors a while to recognize the opportunities in mobile, Giamatteo said. But with the PC market flattening, the industry knows that it had better have products that span the desktop to tablets and phones.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik