Beware: McAfee selling iOS protection you already have

The security firm is happy to charge you $20 for what Apple provides at no cost -- and that some Android and BlackBerry users have at least partially

McAfee today announced that the iOS edition of its WaveSecure mobile security software lets you remotely wipe or lock your iPhone or iPad from a Web portal, as well as back up contacts, photos, and videos to its servers for safekeeping in case a device is lost, stolen, or damaged.

Which is all well and good, except Apple has offered the remote wipe and lock features for more than a year at no charge to all iOS users via its free Find My iPhone/iPad service, and its iTunes software has backed up all that data (and more) since the very first iPhone shipped in 2007. The forthcoming iCloud will also do that backup online -- at no charge -- without iTunes.

[ Apple has much to learn about securing Mac OS X -- and Microsoft could teach it how. Luckily, iOS security is much, much better. | Compare the security and management capabilities of iOS, Android, WebOS, Windows Phone 7, and more in InfoWorld's Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF report. ]

So what is the point of McAfee's $20 offering to do the same thing Apple provides at no cost?

One of McAfee's answers was amusing: It said iOS users could retrieve the backed-up information from Android or other devices that support WaveSecure. Yeah, sure -- iOS users will switch to Android or BlackBerry if their iPhone or iPad is lost, stolen, or damaged. Never mind that data is available through iTunes and soon iCloud.

Another answer was scary: "It enables telcos and ISPs to keep the user loyal to the network instead of the device," said Lianne Caetano, McAfee's marketing director for consumer mobile products. When pressed,, she could not explain how WaveSecure kept users "loyal" to network providers, saying there is no network lock-in, but her statement reveals that WaveLink is designed (at least in marketing's mind) not for the user who pays for it but for network providers. 

Carriers and their technology partners need to get a clue: Smartphones are not interchangeable devices as past cellphones were. People buy iPhones, BlackBerrys, or Androids because they want an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android -- not because it comes from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. The carrier is a secondary concern, based on local coverage quality and your family or business plan. McAfee's carrier-centric motivation should be a red flag that its WaveSecure product isn't really aimed to help you, the user.

Like its rival Symantec, McAfee has been eager to convince mobile users that they need antimalware software on their smartphones and tablets, even though these devices -- with the notable exception of Android -- can live without it. That may change in the future, but for now, mobile devices are safer than PCs.

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