Norton Internet Security: you have exceeded the number of activations allowed—and you are cut off!

WOW. I am shocked at the user-unfriendliness of Norton’s approach here.

I had my Norton Internet Security automatically renewed last month. Although I was surprised at the price increase, I decided to live with it. Until today.

Just now, I was working on an issue with Windows Installer on my desktop machine, when Norton suddenly flashed a bright red dialog to the effect that I had exceeded my number of activations. Norton then disabled itself, potentially leaving me completely open to viruses, trojans, etc. I was shocked.

I immediately opened the main Norton program, and was presented with a dialog urging me to purchase Norton, then place my new Product Key into the dialog box. I was certainly not going to re-purchase something I had just paid for, so I clicked on a link titled “Find my Product Key”. I took one of the options, and logged into my “Norton account”, only to find that there were ZERO Product Keys linked to my account.

This is absolutely infuriating. Somehow they have blown away a brand-new product key!

I quickly looked for a phone number to call, only to see that there was a 30 minute wait. The other option was on-line chat, which I clicked on.After a 5-minute wait, I was connected with a representative—who immediately asked for my Product Key! Which I didn’t have. Fortunately, she accepted a “Product Serial Number”, which was considerably shorter than the 25-character Product Key, and, after asking me to verify my address, issued a new Key that unlocked Norton.

How many people would simply have paid for the product again, out of panic/desperation. I suspect quite a few, and wonder if that’s what they want.

After a little digging, I found this post on Norton’s forum, which indicates there is quite a bit of confusion over “activation limits”. Apparently, you are allowed to install the software on up to 3 PCs; but there is a limit on the total number of installations/re-installations, which apparently is also 3! So, if you install on 3 PCs, then need to re-install on any one of them—which is all too likely, as a result of  shortcomings in Norton software, in my experience—you will hit this limit and have the experience I did today.

It’s hard to see how Norton/Symantec thought this was a good thing. Allow users to install your software on up to 3 PCs, but have it break in the event it needs re-installation on any one of the PCs?? The usual approach is to try to determine whether the user has changed more than a certain number of internal PC components, at which point the software decides it’s a new PC, and makes the user call in to verify that they’ve moved to a new PC. This approach, which is used  by Microsoft, among many others, is a better way. You should allow the user infinite re-installs unless your algorithm determines that your software has been copied, or moved, to a new PC. There is clearly an issue with their approach here; in fact, several issues.

I hope Norton/Symantec re-think this method, but, more than that, re-think the way their software just stops working after a pop-up that may be ignored if the user is typing away, not looking at the screen, and accidentally dismisses the dialog. There is no reason not to give a grace period of up to a day before cutting off all protection. It’s really unconscionable the way they did this, leaving the user vulnerable.

I will certainly be thinking hard about cancelling my subscription, after this. I have not recommended Norton to clients for awhile now, due to its massive memory- and hard-drive-footprint, and have in fact kept it on my machine mainly to stay conversant with the latest editions, so as to support clients that use it; I will now consider recommending that the existing Norton users among my clients cancel their subscriptions as well, and move to a different product.

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  1. #1 by Anita on August 10, 2011 - 11:41 am

    The number of total allowed installations/re-installations is greater than 3. How much greater, I am not sure.

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