Avast commits to protecting digital freedom for everyone

Ondrej Vlcek 16 Sep 2021

Here's how we're shaping the digital landscape to be a fairer, freer, more equitable place for all

I was just 13 years old in 1991 when the Soviet Union pulled its last troops out of what was then Czechoslovakia, my home country. I was spared living through the worst abuses of the Communist era, which choked off the Czech people’s free expression, entrepreneurialism, and ability to explore the wider world. I feel extremely lucky to have come of age in Prague at a time when democracy and capitalism were flourishing.

As a young computer programmer in the ‘90s, I was captivated by the potential of information technologies to reshape the world for the better. The arrival of the internet, with its vision of a free, open, and democratic digital world without borders, gave me hope that open and immediate access to information, commerce, and people worldwide could underpin the spread of democracy and social freedoms globally. 

The last three decades have seen technology develop on a truly revolutionary scale. Today, 4.8 billion people are online — that’s almost 61% of the world’s population — and it’s estimated that there are 700,000 new users coming online each day. This inspires me every day to push on innovation, to figure out how we can bring positive change to the digital world, and crucially, to be vigilant about protecting personal privacy and civil liberties. 

These days, nothing can be taken for granted as the world is undergoing huge, unprecedented change in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, igniting social, economic, and technological shifts. And, a huge part of that change is happening online: the battle for digital freedom, which could play an incredibly important role in defining the future of our global politics and economics. 

At Avast, we've been working for over 30 years to keep people safe. It used to be about protecting machines; today, it's about protecting people. And people are growing increasingly worried and feeling more vulnerable — because the cyber problem has become so much larger, and so much more complicated. 

Over the last year, we talked extensively with our customers and with internet citizens at large to understand their hopes, fears, and needs. 

The more our team at Avast talked to people, the more we heard that the internet was vital to helping them achieve their personal potential, but also that they felt exposed when they went online more than ever before. Six in 10 people said the internet had grown more important to their lives during the pandemic, but just one in five said they felt more confident online than before. Two-thirds told us that concerns over privacy stopped them from doing something online.

Avast is stepping up to tackle this challenge. Today, we are announcing our rigorous commitment to pursuing an expanded, deeper purpose — that of protecting the digital freedoms of all online citizens. You will notice that our brand has a fresh new look and feel to align with our wider mission and to engage with more people on these important digital issues of our time in a relatable, human way. Online security and privacy are complex topics, and it’s an important part of our role as a digital protection provider to ensure people get the information as well as the tools they need to feel comfortable and confident. 

Challenging the status quo

Although time has slightly tempered my youthful (and somewhat utopian) vision for the digital age, my enthusiasm for the boundless possibilities it enables hasn’t faded. But it’s clear that while the internet has enabled incredible opportunities, it has also served as a tool to restrict and limit. 

There are nation states that use the internet to curtail free speech. There are even governments that misuse and abuse the incredible power of big data, machine learning, and AI to oppress their own citizens. Hackers and cybercriminals mastermind increasingly sophisticated attacks that imperil everything from hospitals and oil pipelines to food companies globally. What’s more, too many tech firms and advertisers demonstrate a disregard for our privacy when they track people’s personal data and spending habits to make it easier to market their products and services. In our research, we learned how people really appreciated the internet as a backbone that connected them throughout the pandemic, but that they also felt increasingly watched and vulnerable. They told us they wanted to reset their relationship with the internet, but they were more confused than ever on how to do that, and who they could trust. 

Unless we’re all committed to a digital world that respects our right to privacy, the digital world has the potential to curtail our freedoms rather than enable them.

Similarly, we have fallen down on promises to level the global playing field. Access to the internet is contributing to widening economic disparity, not lessening it. This digital divide has become particularly acute since the pandemic hit. People who can’t access secure, high-speed internet run the risk of being unable to work, study, manage finances, or even receive quality healthcare. Access to safe internet usage is increasingly becoming a critical right for all.

It’s clear that we need to address these issues and halt this increasing inequity. We need to intervene now and reset our technology trajectory for a better, fairer digital future. 

Our three-step plan to support digital freedom globally

Avast is taking action on our commitment in three ways:

1. Introducing our new, free digital protection product: Avast One

We believe it should be easy for people to be protected and safe online. For this reason, we have provided our flagship product, Avast Free Antivirus, for over 20 years. But now, with our new free product, Avast One Essential, we are redefining free protection by combining our robust threat detection, with advanced privacy features to stop unwanted tracking, and performance enhancing engine, all in one service. Avast One Essential provides intuitive and personalized support, helping connected citizens become more confident and engaged online by removing the complexity and improving overall security and privacy for anyone.

2. Funding our philanthropic arm, the Avast Foundation, with 1% of annual profit

We believe technology is an important tool for good. We envision a more equitable and inclusive digital future in which everyone has access to the tools and opportunities to reach their full potential. The Avast Foundation is dedicated to enhancing digital freedom by creating empowered digital citizens across the globe, by working globally with NGOs, charities, educational institutions, and communities to tackle issues of digital exclusion, remove barriers to digital access, and champion digital citizenship and civic participation. 

For instance, through the Spark Fund, a newly established partnership with Global Fund for Children, we are investing in youth-led and youth-focused solutions tackling injustice and inequality, driving transformational change, and building a more inclusive post-pandemic world. This fund, whose first cohort of grant recipients will be identified by the end of this year, exemplifies how we intend to work directly with communities at the grassroots level by identifying challenges and co-design lasting solutions. 

We have a unique opportunity to engage communities around the globe in some of the biggest and most important conversations on the future of the digital world. 

3. Working with stakeholders in industry, policy, and government to lobby for change

We take our role protecting people’s privacy very seriously and understand that it goes beyond product innovation. We partner with organizations like the Coalition Against Stalkerware, which supports people whose partners have misused technology in order to control and abuse them. 

We advocate for digital freedom with these stakeholders worldwide by serving as a resource, proactively engaging on critical topics such as online surveillance, privacy, AI, and encryption technologies, to educate and ensure people-first policymaking.

What’s ahead? 

Avast has entered a new chapter in its history, and I can see clearly the work we need to do in the next 10, 20, and more years to come. The internet is growing up and as technology innovation races ahead, it’s clear our job will never be done. But we don’t want people having worries in the back of their minds every time they are online, calculating the risks of doing something versus the inconvenience of not doing it, and making uncomfortable compromises because they feel they have no other choice.

As innovators, as pioneers, as hopeful visionaries for a better, brighter, digital future, we can better serve our customers and all internet users. It’s not just about providing products; it’s also about fundamentally shaping the digital landscape to be a fairer, freer, more equitable place for all. 

Our new brand identity symbolizes our commitment to doing both of these things, and more. We hope you will join us and our community of over 435 million users in the fight to protect digital freedom and be a part of the change — for you, for all those online today, and for those who will be joining the digital community in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Thank you so much, and let’s make sure the internet becomes a place where we can all thrive again, together.

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