Microsoft sued over WGA checks

— 9:44 AM on June 30, 2006

Two months ago, Microsoft used Windows Update to roll out a Windows Genuine Advantage Notification application that checks users' Windows licenses and displays warnings if a pirated key is found. This notifier app has left Los Angeles resident Brian Johnson less than impressed, and he has filed a lawsuit against Microsoft claiming the software violates spyware laws. Indeed, the WGA Notification tool sparked controversy earlier this month after Microsoft admitted that the app "phoned home" at every system startup without first seeking user consent. Microsoft claimed the checks were harmless, and it eventually decreased their frequency in a WGA Notification update, promising that they would stop entirely by the end of the year.

However, Johnson believes Microsoft mishandled the software's introduction. His lawsuit says Microsoft "effectively installed the WGA software on consumers' systems without providing consumers any opportunity to make an informed choice about that software." Additionally, initial versions of the WGA notifier "didn't explicitly state that it was making the daily check-ins," according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Microsoft retorted by saying the lawsuit is "baseless" and that labeling the WGA software as spyware is incorrect.

Spyware or not, the WGA notifier may not be as harmless as Microsoft claims. In a report unrelated to the lawsuit, a ZDNet blogger quotes the following statement from a Microsoft support employee:

In the fall, having the latest WGA will become mandatory and if its not installed, Windows will give a 30 day warning and when the 30 days is up and WGA isn't installed, Windows will stop working, so you might as well install WGA now.
An official statement from Microsoft adds:
As we have mentioned previously, as the WGA Notifications program expands in the future, customers may be required to participate.
If Johnson's spyware allegations don't hold up, such changes in the WGA policy could certainly raise the heat against Microsoft.
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