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Windows Genuine Advantage: Safety Switch or Spyware?


Windows Genuine Advantage: Safety Switch or Spyware?

Few in the anti-spyware industry disagree that all software which surreptitiously calls home should be qualified as "spyware". But who would think that Microsoft, the maker of Windows Defender has just been caught red-handed distributing software that does exactly the same thing - surreptitiously calls its homepage. The reason for the secret call are noble (protecting the copyrights), but the final outcome is dubious, to say the least.

WGA or Windows Genuine Advantage is, in short, the method used by Microsoft to prevent unauthorized Windows installation. If installed, WGA forces users to validate their copies of Windows by requesting the license key. If the copy of Windows is deemed unauthorized or counterfeit, the users will see alerts during startup reminding them that the version of Windows they use is counterfeit.

No one questions the right of the company to protect their software by checking if it has been stolen. The problem with WGA lies elsewhere.

WGA calls home

It all started from rumors, but Microsoft finally confirmed them: the latest update to Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) phones to the Redmond company headquarters on a daily basis. According to Lauren Weinstein, the WGA calls Microsoft's servers even after it has validated Windows and confirmed it is genuine.

'We can argue about whether or not the tool's behavior is really spyware', Lauren Weinstein said, 'there are various definitions of spyware, and the question of whether or not you feel that the notice provided at upgrade installation time was sufficient is also directly relevant. I believe that the MS officials I spoke to agree with my assertion that additional clarity and a more "in your face" aspect to these notifications in such cases would be highly desirable.'

In response, Microsoft said that the feature was a "safety switch", designed to enable the company to shut down the program in case of a problem. The company added that it would provide an update for the WGA so the computers would only call home every 90 days.

The problem is that until the rumors had started, Microsoft told us nothing about the fact that our systems are monitored on a daily basis.

What else is Microsoft not telling us?

Lauren Weinstein wrote on his blog: 'I do not know what data is being sent to MS or is being received during these connections. I cannot locate any information in the MS descriptions to indicate that the tool would notify MS each time I booted a valid system. I fail to see where Microsoft has a "need to know" for this data after a system's validity has already been established, and there may clearly be organizations with security concerns regarding the communication of boot-time information.'

Many computer users fear that Microsoft's idea would be embraced by other software vendors, leading to more and more restrictions the customers would have to accept in order to be able to use the product. Also, the matter of invasion of privacy arose; as such tools may eventually be able to send all kinds of info to the developer of the software.

 



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