Update: McAfee and the Ghost License Issue

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After writing my last post on the way McAfee took me for a ride – charging me for five years of license renewals after I uninstalled its software – I heard pretty quickly from Francie Coulter, McAfee’s Director of WW Consumer Public Relations. On the plus side, there was no bluster. She apologized and offered a full refund. On the minus side, the refund seems to depend on public embarrassment on a high-traffic site like Techland, and I declined to accept special treatment. I invited Ms. Coulter to offer a method by which ordinary customers could obtain the same result. She sidestepped that question, saying McAfee has “improved its practices” and adding that there might be “a variety of instances in which people want to continue with a security subscription even though they may add or drop a computer or device.” That does not explain why anyone would want to continue paying when the license is not in use on any device.

Here’s the whole exchange, most recent email first:

Hi Barton-

Here are some additional details about McAfee and auto-renewals/uninstalls.

McAfee is in the business of providing a service to consumers. A subscription to McAfee is associated with the person and his/her account—not that person’s individual computer(s). There are a variety of instances in which people want to continue with a security subscription even though they may add or drop a computer or device.

To bring provide greater transparency to the auto-renewal process, McAfee has improved its practices since 2006.

During the purchase process, on the billing page, customers are advised: “Auto-renewal: Before your subscription expires, McAfee uses the credit card information that we have on file to renew your subscription automatically. Your credit card is charged at the rate that is current on the date of renewal. You can turn Auto-Renewal off from the My Account page after we process your order.”  Similar information is also contained in the EULA (end-user license agreement).

If a person wants to turn off auto-renewal, he/she can do so anytime via the McAfee “My Account”; alternatively customers can also opt-out via a free phone call, a live chat session, or through email.

We also send email reminders 60 and 30 days ahead of renewal.

I hope this additional information is helpful, Barton. Please feel free to contact me with further questions.

Francie Coulter
Director of WW Consumer Public Relations


From: Barton Gellman
Sent: Friday, December 24, 2010 11:21 AM
To: Coulter, Francie
Subject: Re: McAfee experience


Thanks for your unexpected note. You and your colleagues have been unfailingly polite. It is the policy and practice of the company that disturbs me.

I did not intend to seek special treatment as a TIME writer and can’t accept an additional refund that is not available to ordinary customers. I’d like to update my blog post after the holiday. If you would like to offer additional information about McAfee’s handling of license fees for uninstalled software (or software that is not in contact with your update servers), please let me know. Likewise, if there is a route you can describe for customers in my position to get better results on a refund than I did before I wrote about it, I would be glad to pass that to my readers as well.

Enjoy your holiday.



From: Coulter, Francie
Sent: Thursday, December 23, 2010 11:04 AM
Subject: McAfee experience

Hi Barton-

I saw the blog about your experience with McAfee and I’m sorry it was such a poor one.

We will refund the total amount you were charged which is $124.60.

I am looking into some of the specific comments in the blog and will respond as soon as I can.

Again, please accept my apologies on behalf of McAfee.


Francie Coulter
Director of WW Consumer Public Relations