Microsoft in hot water over WGA 'spyware'

Microsoft has been hit with two lawsuits over its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), an antipiracy program that checks to make sure the copy of Windows you’re running has a valid license. Two suits were filed four days apart last week in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

WGA was introduced in July 2005. It collects hardware and software data and delivers it to Microsoft servers; the information is then used to warn of possible piracy.

The latest suit claims that WGA runs afoul of consumer protection laws in California and Washington, and could potential run into problems with laws that have been passed to protect consumers from so-called “spyware” — applications that surreptitiously collect data.

The suit also alleges that Microsoft misled consumers by delivering WGA as part of a batch of monthly updates that often includes critical security patches. The suit wants Microsoft to delete all data collected by WGA and give users an easy way of removing the software, in addition to damages.

Microsoft has recently stepped up the WGA program, adding a function that notifies users if they’re suspected of running an invalid version of Windows. Users have complained that WGA is buggy and can identify valid copies of Windows as invalid.

Microsoft this week released a new version of WGA that lets users opt out of notifications. It also changes the frequency with which the program contacts Microsoft.

For computers suspected of running bogus software, Microsoft has blocked downloads of free tools such as Windows Defender, its antispyware tool, but allowed security patches.

(Jeremy Kirk provided information used in this report.)

This story, "Microsoft in hot water over WGA 'spyware'" was originally published by PCWorld.

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