CyberTech Rambler

June 30, 2006

Microsoft sued over Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:42 pm

Surprise, surprise, Microsoft is sued over Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage (WGA).

Some folks has seen similarity between this and the Sony Rootkit fiasco. I see the similarities but also glaring differences. The similarities are:

  1. The software aims to protect the producers, not the consumers
  2. Software were installed without giving users enough information about it, i.e., dishonest.
  3. Both phone home.

Differences are:

  1. Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage had “damaged” some computers. If you have a legal copy of Windows but WGA says you are not, then you suffer “damages”. Some reports says that there are prominient notices on the computer saying you are using a pirated copy. If you are not a pirate, at least your reputation is “damaged”. Legitimate customers need not have to go through the humiliating process of calling (and convincing) Windows Tech Support that their copy is genuine. So far, there is not much real damage done by Sony Rootkit besides making one’s computer vulnerable.
  2. WGA is not something you can not install because it is an integral part of Windows Update, a critical component if you are a Microsoft user. At least with Sony you can play your CD in your HiFi without being affected. In today’s world, asking a person to use Microsoft Office on an isolated (not connected to a network of any sort) is normally not an option.

PJ of Groklaw, in her blog post about this subject, says that she had tried very hard (but ultimately failed) to resist using iTune since iTune change its terms and conditions. I seriously dislike the idea that T&C can change at software’s company’s whim. The law needs to clarify whether this should be allowed. It is rather disappointing that the lawsuit did not address this issue. May be it is the wrong avenue.

Microsoft spokeperson dismiss the lawsuite as “baseless”. Microsoft is the defendent, so of course it will say that. It may be difficult to prove that Microsoft commited something illegal as the case is less clearcut than Sony Rootkit, but baseless is too far a stretch. His arguement that WGA is not a spyware because “Spyware is deceptive software that is installed on a user’s computer without the user’s consent and has some malicious purpose”. Phoning home everyday without telling users you do that is certainly deceptive. Spyware is “spying using software”. You do not have to show malicious intent when spying. In fact, parental spying usually has good intention for the receipient at the other end of the stick.

OK, assume I buy the argument that user consents were granted. I will then be immediately confronted by the issue of whether users are coerced into granting permission. As it is an “addon”, not an original component of existing Windows Software, this meant users had not agreed to use WGA when they bought the software. However, to receive updates, which they are entitled to, you must install WGA. There is strong evidence of coercion here.

Actually, in the long run, all matters discussed above and in the lawsuit does not matter. Microsoft’s reputation is damaged. Whatever trust they built up over the years has been destroyed by the way they push WGA out as critical update. Critical updates usually means update that protects users from malicious software such as virus and backdoor. WGA is not a critical component by any account. Labelling WGA as critical update while it is clearly not meant to me that we cannot trust what Microsoft regards as “critical update”. They are willing to push things onto you under this disguise and this abuse my trust in them. As Microsoft is dabbling in security software now and in security, trust is very important. How can I trust that Microsoft will not label their own dubious software as malware? It is certainly forseeable that Microsoft will permits all communication between your computer and their servers, whatever the purpose of the communication is. It is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

This is what the long term damage to Microsoft lies. Not WGA or any DRM or anti-piracy move it takes.


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