PSA: AppleCare Does Not Cover Malware and Viruses
While security researchers and hackers have warned for years that Mac OS X is susceptible to viruses, Mac owners have generally shrugged them off, and they’ve had the external feedback to support them: Theoretical possibility does not equal real-world probability, and the odds of getting a virus on a Mac have been remote. It’s too early to say whether that is about to change in any significant way, but we’ve recently reported on a malware program called Mac Defender which poses as an antivirus program and steals users’ credit card information, and which has been spotted in the wild.
Earlier this month, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber prominently accused journalists writing about the Mac platform’s vulnerability of “crying wolf.” However, in a recent interview with an anonymous AppleCare employee, ZDNet’s Ed Bott [who, it’s worth noting, is one of the journalists Gruber calls out individually] reports that Mac malware is on the rise in real-world situations, and, perhaps more significantly for the future than for the present, AppleCare does not cover malware and virus protection, and AppleCare employees are specifically instructed not to help customers remove malicious programs, and they could even potentially be fired if they do.
From Bott’s interview:
AC: We have a team of people who go though all case notes and find new issues that are popping up a lot and send notices to all of AppleCare. Our notice for Mac Defender is that we’re not supposed to help customers remove malware from their computer.
AC: That’s about what i said when I read it. The reason for the rule, they say, is that even though Mac Defender is easy to remove, we can’t set the expectation to customers that we will be able to remove all malware in the future. That’s what antivirus is for.
EB: So you are supposed to tell them that the Terms of Service don’t allow you to help them remove it, and they should … what?
AC: Well, in the agreement for AppleCare, it does state we don’t help with malware. However, just because we’re told we’re not to help people get rid of it, most of us do.
EB: Taking a little risk there? i assume your calls are randomly monitored and you could get a warning if someone decides to be a hardass.
AC: Indeed we are monitored, but I can’t personally justify telling a father who’s freaking out about what his 6-year-old daughter just saw that I can’t help him out. Our on-floor managers and QA guys do their best to let it slide, but if they start getting pushed from higher-ups, we could face write-ups and even termination. [emphasis added.]
Though Apple’s policy might sound harsh, it makes sense from the company’s standpoint. If virus protection isn’t covered under AppleCare and an AppleCare employee ‘goes rogue’ and attempts to help a customer remove a virus, and that customer goes on to accidentally brick their computer, then Apple could potentially be on the hook not just for the replacement cost of the device, but for the fuzzy value of that person’s lost data. Still, assuming that Bott’s information is accurate, this is not an issue that is going away anytime soon. Even if Mac users don’t operate in the staggeringly virus-ridden world of PCdom, where, according to recent research, 1 out of every 14 programs downloaded turns out to be malware, they are far from immune, and should follow safe browsing and downloading practices like everyone else.