Browser automation. Office Depot halts PC Health Checks amid bogus infection claims

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Office Depot has suspended PC Health Check – its malware-scanning service – after it was accused of lying about infections to push antivirus software.

Former Office Depot technician Shane Barnett told Seattle TV station KIRO 7 that the PC Health Check service would lie to customers that their otherwise-clean PCs were infected with malware, and that this was used to flog expensive disinfection tools. He claimed he was let go from his job because he refused to run the allegedly dodgy scanner on people’s machines.

“The program itself is mandatory,” said Barnett. “It’s not an option to not run the program. You have to run it on every machine that comes in the building. Period.

“I knew I was going to be replaced when I started to see that stuff happening because I refused to do it. They’re like, you have to hit these numbers. I’m like, I’m not going to make things up so you can hit your numbers. I’m not going to do it.”

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The station decided to investigate his claims and took six virgin PCs along to Office Depot stores in Oregon and Washington State, US. In four stores, their researchers were told there was a malware infection on the clean computers and were given a hard sell for cleanup services costing up to $180 to clean the “problems.”

They then took the PCs to computer security company IOActive. “We found no symptoms of malware when we operated them,” Will Longman, the firm’s VP of security said. “Nor did we find any actual malware.”

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Now Office Depot has suspended the PC Health Check service nationwide while an investigation is ongoing. “Office Depot in no way condones any of the conduct that has been alleged in media reports,” a spokesperson for the chain told The Register on Monday.

“We have commenced a full review of the assertions and will take appropriate action. Office Depot is committed to providing the best possible service to our customers, and we are suspending the PC tune-up services throughout our retail chain pending our review.”

Now the politicians have swooped in to bayonet the wounded. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has asked the FTC to investigate allegations that Office Depot broke American trading standards laws. ®

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