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Windows Genuine Advantage: Microsoft Spyware?

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In July 2005, Microsoft began to require that all Windows XP users install "Windows Genuine Advantage" (WGA) software to help them track down software piracy by identifying pirated copies of Windows. On April 25, 2006, Microsoft distributed update KB905474 to the software via Windows Update, and the response has been almost uniformly negative, prompting even a lawsuit.

The suit was filed in Seattle last week, and alleges that the current version of WGA violates both consumer rights laws and anti-spyware legislation in Washington and California. An effort is underway to create a class-action suit. Microsoft has responded to the clearly-unanticipated backlash by changing how the WGA works, but critics are not satisfied.

The new revision of WGA was released as a "critical update" in a group of high-priority security updates, and some users have reported that it was installed without any prompting, even though the users had their Windows Update set to prompt them before installing anything. The lawsuit alleges that Microsoft was deliberately misleading users by treating WGA as a security update, when it does not provide users with any additional security.

WGA collects information about the computer on which it is running, including a Global Unique Identifier as well as product keys, regional settings, hard drive serial numbers, BIOS information, and even the make and model of the computer. As part of the April 24 update, each computer was transmitting this information to Microsoft daily, though Microsoft changed the software on June 27 to transmit an update only every 14 days, and has now changed it again to transmit only when the tool is updated. Microsoft has also reclassed WGA as "optional" and released information on how to remove the software, but users who do so will be ineligible to receive any non-security patches from Windows Update.

Critics are alleging that WGA sometimes misfires, incorrectly identifying valid licensed copies of Windows as "pirated," and making those users unable to download normal software updates. Once a license has been identified as invalid, the user is assumed to be either a software pirate or the victim of a software pirate. If a user can produce a proof of purchase showing that they purchased the license in good faith, Microsoft may send them a genuine copy of Windows at no cost. Otherwise, the user is expected to pay either $99 (for XP Home edition) or $149 (for XP Pro) to buy a valid license.

While Microsoft's reasons for collecting the information seem reasonable to many, it remains to be seen whether they can do so and avoid anti-spyware legislation and consumer privacy laws.

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  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Interesting — privacy and security are truly two of the most important issues of our time.

  • Marty

    There are cracked versions of the .dll file to work around the WGA. So who cares what Microshaft does to Windblows. Some one will always have a work around.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    If you buy a computer from any major vendor, you are still paying the Microsoft tax, even if you find ways to defeat Windows Genuine Advantage. And of course millions of people never will learn how to defeat WGA, so that makes millions of people who have reasons to care about Microsoft’s actions.

  • Guppusmaximus

    OR…You NEVER buy a computer from a dealer! You always build your own computer,download a pirated version of windows and download cracked security updates. Long Live Bittorrent!!

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/07/03/122606.php alex

    i have a comp straight from dell. i get false non-genuine windows flags from WGA all the time, i have to reboot and let it “phone” home again to get it to quit the nag screens. now unless dell is “pirating” windows, i don’t think this is my fault. We just get to pay to be “beta testing” something MS wants to include in Vista no doubt.

  • Ryan

    Thats funny though personally i could care less if Microsoft knows what computer I use, if they really are that interested in me I’ll send them my autobiography. But WGA does have many flaws, my gateway got a message on it that says my copy of windows was illegitimate, surprisingly enough, the day after my warranty expired. One WGA validated again, the message was gone, but the problem with WGA is as long as I can get security updates I wouldn’t care about other updates if i pirated windows, cuz i would have got it free. And thats what the pirates thinking is. That or they find a way to trick WGA into thinking they are a legit user.

  • Bliffle

    I dread to think what WGA will do to me when i attempt to upgrade my HDD next week. I went thru a lesser version of MS confusion last year when I did this, which almost drove me to buy a Mac.

  • Max

    We buy the microsoft product we then own it and for thus We shall change it as we like, Hence the fact I or we just bought it and hence the word own. MINE OuRS

  • neo13233=324-4

    who cares about security updates , lock your computer down use external fire wall(perferably a junk machine loop them, Dont let people look at you stuff, You lock your car dont you . Lock your pc. We are smarter use commen sense dont trust any one, besides what are they going to find your porn collection come on people, They have bigger fish to fry, They worry about if you copy a music cd when there are people out there in the world making billions of illegal copies and black marketing them, Yeah…They have better thins to do ,

  • http://www.thespywaresearchanddestroy.com Devin Kirk

    You know what I’ve never understood about this? For the people who buy the windows copies out right, why is this even necessary? I think I would moreso focus my time on flooding pirate sites with my own version of my software, and get information that way. I had a friend who had to go through the whole ordeal about his bought license being pirated, and it seems to me that doing things this way only makes it harder on the ones who are trying to do everything legitimately.