Microsoft plans better disclosures of tool - WGA

SEATTLE - 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. "It's kind of a safety switch," said David Lazar, who directs the Windows Genuine Advantage program. But he […]

SEATTLE - 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.

"It's kind of a safety switch," said David Lazar, who directs the Windows Genuine Advantage program.

But he acknowledged that Microsoft should have given users more information about the daily interactions.

"We're looking at ways to communicate that in a more forward manner," he said.

Lazar also said the company plans to tweak the program soon so that it will only check in with Microsoft every two weeks, rather than daily.

Lazar said that so far, about 60 percent of users who were offered the piracy check decided to install it. Once installed, the program checks to make sure the version of Windows a user is running is legitimate, and gathers information such as the computer's manufacturer and the language and locale it is set for.

That information-gathering is disclosed in a licensing agreement. But the agreement does not make clear that the program also is designed to "call home" to Microsoft's servers, to make sure that it should keep running.

At least every 90 days, the tool also checks again to see if the copy of Windows is legitimate. Lazar said that's because the company sometimes discovers that a copy of Windows that it thought was legitimate is actually pirated.

When Microsoft believes a copy of Windows is pirated, the user begins to get a series of reminders that the copy isn't genuine. Such users also are barred from downloading noncritical updates, such as the new version of its Internet Explorer browser. But anyone who has signed up to automatically receive security updates, which repair flaws to prevent Internet attacks, will still get those fixes.

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WGA, Windows Genuine Advantage