No WGA Harm, No Foul

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-07-05 Print this article Print

Opinion: There really are privacy issues in computing, but the hysteria over Windows Genuine Advantage trivializes them.

If youre going to run Windows on your computer, then at some level you have to trust Microsoft. This would seem to me to be a pretty basic and obvious point, but its lost on the folks who are suing Microsoft over the behavior of the Windows Genuine Advantage program. Theyre willing to run massive amounts of Microsoft-written software on their computers and entrust it with their data. But given what to all appearances is an innocuous file check on the Internet and they resort to the courts for relief.
Relief from what? First, Microsoft has removed the daily check that brought on this most immediate crisis. Theres no evidence that anyones personal information was transmitted anywhere as a result of this program.
For advice on how to secure your network and applications, as well as the latest security news, visit Ziff Davis Internets Security IT Hub. Theres also no evidence to support the absurd claim made recently that users without the current version of WGA would find their copies of Windows disabled. Other confused observers assumed this meant that WGA itself had a kill switch, but the plain text said otherwise. And the claim was based on a posting by a longtime Microsoft competitor who claimed to have heard it from a Microsoft support person. Until I see some reasonable evidence Im assuming that this is as bogus as it seems to me, especially in as much as Microsoft has explicitly denied it. WGA has inspired a copycat worm. Click here to read more. Others have claimed, more plausibly, that WGA isnt perfect at detecting potentially pirated systems. This is a much more reasonable complaint, although not one worth going to the courts over. If it made sense to sue over every software bug, even just the annoying ones, the courts would be jam-packed. The point of WGA is to discourage piracy, and therefore the benefit of it, at least the proximate benefit, is Microsofts, not the users. A legitimate user gets only the vaguest of benefits from running WGA on his or her computer, and that benefit pretty much goes away after it runs successfully once. Microsoft would have done much better, if you ask me, by being honest and simple in its language about what WGA does. As my colleague Peter Coffee points out, it has instead chosen Orwellian terms like "consistent experience" and emphasized the benefit to ordinary users of having WGA. I sympathize fully with the desire to combat piracy, so just say that to me! Dont tell me this is all for my own good. If Microsoft is motivated by fighting piracy, what motivates the people filing these stupid lawsuits? I doubt its the money, because even people who show real harm in a class action usually end up getting coupons from the company they sue. I chalk it all up to a lack of any perspective on privacy and the urge to slay dragons. Wed all be better off if they just went back to their day jobs. And if they dont trust Microsoft they shouldnt be running Windows. Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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