Why Spy? Reasons Behind WGA and Microsoft's Alleged 'Spying'

Dennis Faas's picture

With Microsoft's recent release of the anti-piracy program Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), the technological world has been given the task of understanding this confusing and complex system intended to root out hackers trying to crack the Big M's merchandise.

On one hand: Microsoft promises that WGA protects the user by allowing non-pirates easy access to Windows updates, downloads, and special offers. On the other hand: Industry insiders contend that WGA is a hack by Microsoft itself -- a program that deceptively infiltrates home and office computers to spy on the average Joe's every move.

So, what's the motivation behind such a move? How could it ever do anything but upset the techies who fuel the Microsoft machine?

The most vehement arguments about WGA stem from reports that it acts like malware, in that, after installation, it keeps track of a user's actions, sending periodic updates back to Microsoft HQ. Even after software has been validated, Microsoft can keep tabs on the user in the future, at any time holding the option to "revoke" such validation. (Source: p2pnet.net)

So, the question thus remains: Why Spy?

Microsoft might tell you simply that they a) want to discourage piracy use amongst all users and b) they want to educate the public on how to be aware and beyond that critical of piracy programs and the effect they might have on the technological industry.

The first is clear: if you're a pirate, Microsoft wants to know and shut you down. The second is a bit romantic and a bit far-fetched; they're banking on you finding out your software is a pirated version, becoming quite upset, and seeking out the pirate who sold it to you. In this way, WGA is meant to get both Microsoft AND the consumer involved in eradicating software pirates. (Source: arstechnica.com)

In effect, the consumer who owns pirated software is either a pirate themselves, or a victim. Either way, they are meant to become a snitch, much like a drug bust that lets the individual coke user go free in order to get information and the subsequent arrest of a more important dealer.

Victims who are caught with pirated software on their computer can either a) fail to prove it and be given the chance to purchase and use legitimate identification keys for Microsoft merchandise, or b) prove they truly are an unsuspecting victim by providing names, and receive a free replacement. Microsoft hopes the "trade up" provided by users with pirated software will limit the growth of black-market technology. (Source: arstechnica.com)

Microsoft would surely tell you that a significant but comparably small group of pirates have spoiled the security of operating systems and software for the rest of us. Identification keys and installs that infiltrate user computers are a reality and a legitimate method of enforcing anti-piracy.

But how far will it go?

With anger over WGA rising, consumers may soon demand a security device that protects their system from Microsoft itself, a market direction that will only build the momentum of Microsoft's growing list of competition.

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