Microsoft calms WGA counterfeit checking tools

In a bid to reassure Windows users, Microsoft has tweaked its authenticity checking tools in its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program.

The WGA Notifications program, which checks whether installations of Windows are genuine or counterfeit, was recently expanded worldwide, and delivered as a Windows update through Automatic Updates.

However, it might be said that this was an inappropriate mechanism: Automatic Updates are normally the vector for delivering technical or security improvements rather than allowing Microsoft the run of your PC to check if its software is genuine.

Additionally it turned out that the software checked back with Microsoft servers each time the machine was turned on, leading some to consider the tool as spyware.

Microsoft has announced that while the WGA tool will continue to be delivered through Automatic Updates, the installation process will involve a new standard EULA that sets out clearly what the purpose of the WGA Notifications tool is, so that customers are better informed when deciding whether to go ahead with the installation. There are also instructions on Microsoft’s website that show how to uninstall the software for those that unwittingly installed it previously.

On top of this, the tool will no longer report back to Microsoft’s servers with the same frequency. Instead, the tool reports back over longer periods: every 90 days for installations with Microsoft’s Volume License keys. The company justifies this, saying that its blacklist of counterfeit keys is constantly being updated.

It adds that ‘all users will continue to receive critical security updates regardless of their participation’.

Even so, Microsoft has no intention of backing down over its Keep IT Real authenticity campaign. It quotes a recent Business Software Alliance report that estimates somewhere around 35 per cent of the world’s software is counterfeit, and research group IDC reckons that lowering the piracy rate by a tenth would put some $400bn back into the economy.

With Microsoft’s massive footprint in the software market, that’s a whole lot of missing revenues.

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