Phantom Windows Updates Install Without Consent

Dennis Faas's picture

If you have a friend or relative that is always surprising you with things that they assume you will like (and for the most part, you don't) -- then you can probably relate to consumers disgruntled over 'forced' Windows updates that install without consent of the PC owner.

Phantom Updates: Started June 9, 2009

According to the Windows Secrets newsletter, a number of people have noticed that their PCs have newly-installed updates and security patches once their machines are turned on or rebooted. These "phantom updates" have appeared as early as June 9th, 2009. (Source:

The problem with "phantom updates" is that most consumers have asked Microsoft not to install anything on their computers without prior knowledge or notification. This means that these people went into Windows Update (the default update service) and set their options to require an okay from them before any downloads or installations are made.

In Windows Update, only the "automatic" setting allows downloads and installations to be made without asking for further permission from the user.

How Could this Mix-Up Have Happened?

According to Windows Secrets, incomplete downloads are to blame.

If you have incomplete update(s) downloaded at the time of shutdown, Windows will not display these updates as pending. However, Windows will start installing any successfully downloaded updates, even if the user told Windows Update not to do so prior. (Source:

Incomplete Updates: Nothing New, says Microsoft

Incomplete update downloads are nothing new with Windows Update. Microsoft even has a Knowledge Base document that says if a download is not completed all at once, Automatic Updates terminates it and the remainder of the update is re-installed a few days later -- without asking the user.

Record Number of Updates and Patches to Blame?

Some suggest that the "phantom updates" started to appear as early as June 9th, 2009.

On this day, Microsoft issued a record number of updates (10 security updates and 31 individual bug patches) which were the most in a single month since the company began regularly-scheduled updates in 2003. (Source:

The belief is that the large number of updates and patches could have exceeded the server capacity, which would have resulted in some downloads failing before completion.

Whatever the reason for the mishap, Microsoft is downplaying the situation, claiming that concerns are unwarranted and the confusion will eventually dissipate in the next few days.

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