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June 7, 2006

Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage tester phones home

Posted by David Hunter at 8:32 PM ET.

In April, Microsoft announced an expansion of the Windows Genuine Advantage program featuring an optional Windows XP update (that has since been released and re-released) which would test a Windows installation and nag the user if it wasn’t legitimate. It turns out to have another property that has some folks upset:

Microsoft Corp. acknowledged Wednesday that it needs to better inform users that its tool for determining whether a computer is running a pirated copy of Windows also quietly checks in daily with the software maker.

The company said the undisclosed daily check is a safety measure designed to allow the tool, called Windows Genuine Advantage, to quickly shut down in case of a malfunction. For example, if the company suddenly started seeing a rash of reports that Windows copies were pirated, it might want to shut down the program to make sure it wasn’t delivering false results.

“It’s kind of a safety switch,” said David Lazar, who directs the Windows Genuine Advantage program.

Lazar said the company added the safety measure because the piracy check, despite widespread distribution, is still a pilot program.

Lauren Weinstein, who is co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility and was one of the first people to notice the daily communications to Microsoft, said he understands and sympathizes with Microsoft’s desire to control piracy. But he said it’s problematic that Microsoft did not disclose all the program’s communications with the company.

Weinstein said he also was surprised that Microsoft decided to release so widely a tool that it says is in a “pilot” mode and might need to be suddenly shut down.

Since it seems that every piece of software I get these days wants to phone home for some reason, I’m not overly worried about the privacy aspect, but do wonder about the need for a universal kill switch.

Update: 6/8 Microsoft does some damage control.

Filed under General Business, Genuine Advantage, Legal, Licensing, Microsoft, Piracy, Technologies

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2 Responses to “Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage tester phones home”

  1. James R Burnett Says:

    Microsoft checks in daily.

    If you’ve ever had to install the Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage program you should know Microsoft is sending data back to their servers on a daily basis.

  2. Microsoft cleans up Windows Genuine Advantage … we hope -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Tuesday also marks the end of the pilot phase of WGA Notifications, which means eventually the program will run on all versions of Windows XP worldwide that use Microsoft’s Automatic Updates system. The program is currently in a phased rollout, beginning with all English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Italian and Dutch versions of Windows XP. Microsoft will soon offer these users the updated WGA Notifications through Automatic Updates. Swell, but the problem wasn’t the frequency of checking or even the fact that it called home. The problem was that it was buggy beta software in the guise of a critical update. Ed Bott sums it up succinctly in Microsoft presses the Stupid button: Stupid mistake #1: This update should never have been included with Critical Updates. The Automatic Updates mechanism in Windows XP (and in the upcoming Windows Vista) is supposed to be a delivery vehicle for Critical Updates that fix security flaws in Windows. … Stupid mistake #2: The new WGA tool is wrong too often. If you’re going to punish your users, you had better be 100% right about identifying the offenders. … Stupid mistake #3: The user is left high and dry. How high and dry? See Bott’s follow-up from today for some tales of user woe plus some speculation that Microsoft is actually making WGA into a “kill switch” for Windows. I don’t excuse piracy and I understand the financial pressures that encourage Microsoft to be more aggressive in discouraging it, but this particular effort has been ill-conceived from the start and it’s not clear that what was announced today makes it substantially better. It’s OK to ding the pirates, but not at the expense of paying customers. Filed under Legal, General Business, Licensing, Piracy, Microsoft   [Permalink] [...]

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