Tech support or extortion? You be the judge

Remote support company iYogi was caught using scare tactics to sell its services to naive customers. Can it win back our trust?

As someone who's been in this business since mammals were still the new quadrupeds on the block, I've probably logged 3,000-plus hours on the phone with tech support for various companies. The pain threshold for those experiences has always been somewhere between having oral surgery without anesthetic and attending a Justin Bieber concert without earplugs. Over the last few years, though, getting gear fixed has become much less painful, and the reason is simple: remote support. Letting the geeks take control of my PC over the Net and fix it while I watch has finally made tech calls bearable, if not exactly pleasant.

It's also a scenario that's ripe for abuse, which brings me to today's topic: iYogi, a remote tech support company based in Gurgaon, India.

[ Cringely reveals another threat to your PC security: Microsoft, apparently. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

iYogi provides white label end-user support for major tech companies like Dell and Microsoft. It also sells its services directly to individual users for $170 a year. How it goes about selling support, however, is not unlike how the Mob markets protection: through fear and intimidation.

One of the companies iYogi provided support for was Avast, the maker of "freemium" antivirus software. Recently, Avast's customers began reporting that iYogi was using support calls to aggressively sell annual subscriptions by telling them their computers were corrupted when, in fact, they weren't.

Brian Krebs of the KrebsOnSecurity blog decided to investigate. He created a Windows virtual XP machine on his Mac, installed Avast, and called iYogi for support. Sure enough, the support tech found serious issues with Krebs' machine, some of which could not possibly exist.

[The technician] proceeded to install an iYogi "tune up" tool called PCDiagnostics, which took about 60 seconds to complete a scan of my system. The results showed that my brand new installation of Windows had earned a 73% score, and that it had to detected 17 registry errors and a problem with Windows Update (this was unlikely, as I had already enabled Windows Update and Automatic Updates before I made the support call, and had installed all available security patches).

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