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.