updated 11:35 am EDT, Fri September 4, 2009
Microsoft sued over WGA
Microsoft this week was sued in a Washington district court for allegedly violating privacy laws through Windows XP's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) copy protection scheme. Similar to cases filed in 2006, the new class action case accuses Microsoft of falsely representing what information WGA would send to verify the authenticity of Windows and that it would send back information that could be traced back to individual users. Although the company has claimed no personal information is sent, the authentication system is said to provide daily information on the user's IP address and other details that could be used to trace information back to an individual home.
The complaint further argued that Microsoft portrayed WGA as a necessary security update rather than acknowledge its copy protection nature in the update. WGA's implementation also prevented users from purging the protection from their PCs without completely reformatting a computer's system drive, leaving many with no real choice but to accept WGA after it was installed.
In its official stance, Microsoft has only said it provides system data and has denied that any identifying information would be sent. It has long since acknowledged WGA's main role, which among other things has blocked important updates like service packs and Internet Explorer upgrades for copies believed to be pirated.
The lawsuit is specific and would ask for at least $5 million in compensation for the affected class of all Windows XP users in the US.
WGA has been controversial as it has also been embedded in Vista and is periodically known to falsely flag users as pirates, although such incidents have generally become rarer over time.
The approach contrasts sharply with that of Apple, which even with Mac OS X Snow Leopard has declined to add copy protection to its OS releases. The company is helped by its control over hardware, which reduces the impact of piracy on its business, but nonetheless continues to rely on trust alone for a significant amount of its OS revenues.