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 user 2005-08-15 at 7:33:00 am Views: 54
  • #12507

    Microsoft braces for user backlash over downloads

    The next time you visit the Web site of
    Microsoft Corp. to download some software, be prepared to let the world’s
    biggest software company have a look inside your computer.

    In a determined strike to quell the proliferation of counterfeit software,
    Microsoft is now requiring that all customers coming to its Web site for
    upgrades and other downloads submit their computers to an electronic

    If you use one of the estimated 100 million PCs running pirated software,
    don’t expect your upgrade. For Microsoft, the new policy is a stepped-up effort
    to combat the loss of billions of dollars’ worth of software sales every year to
    counterfeiters around the world. But in ramping up efforts to fight piracy, the
    Redmond, Wash.-based behemoth already finds itself fending off critics over

    “It sets an extremely negative precedent,” Pam Dixon, executive director of
    World Privacy Forum, a non-profit public-interest research center in San Diego,
    said of the company’s initiative. “Microsoft is saying, ‘Before I let you do
    anything at all, you have to open your computer to us.’ I really object to

    The company will scan machines for a variety of information, including
    product keys or software authorization codes, operating-system version and
    details on the flow of data between the operating system and other hardware,
    such as printers.

    It is access to this information that particularly upsets the privacy
    advocates. Dixon says the only information Microsoft needs to fight piracy is
    the product key and the operating-system version, and she says that Microsoft
    will be able to identify users uniquely based on some of the information the
    company collects.

    “They are grabbing more information than they need to deter piracy,” she

    If Microsoft deems a PC to be carrying contraband code, it won’t allow a user
    to download Microsoft programs, with the exception of security patches. But the
    software company – which says that more than one in five U.S. computers runs a
    counterfeit version of its Windows product – is not just waving a stick. It is
    also offering a big carrot.

    Microsoft said it will give a free copy of its Windows XP to customers who
    unknowingly bought a counterfeit version of the operating system and who fill
    out a piracy report, provide proof of purchase and send Microsoft the
    counterfeit CDs.

    Customers who cannot provide proof of purchase but file a piracy report will
    receive a substantial discount on a legitimate version of the operating system,
    said Tim Prime, a product manager in the Windows client group at Microsoft
    Canada Co., a subsidiary of the U.S. company.

    Executives at Microsoft reject any suggestions that the move will antagonize
    customers with privacy concerns.

    “Customers want to know whether retailers have sold them genuine software,”
    Prime said.

    More than 40 million users agreed to have their systems scanned in a 10-month
    trial that began last September in several countries. The participation rate
    amounted to 58 percent of all visitors to the pilot Web site, far exceeding
    Microsoft’s expectations of just 10 percent, Prime said.

    Microsoft said no personal data will be collected during the validation
    process, and information will remain completely anonymous. The company said it
    commissioned TUV-IT, an independent German security auditor, to test how well
    its Windows Genuine Advantage program protects customers’ data. The firm
    concluded that Microsoft does not collect any personal information that would
    allow it to identify or contact a user.

    Seth Schoen, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a
    civil liberties group in San Francisco specializing in technology issues, agreed
    that Microsoft would not be able to identify customers personally through the
    program. But the data collected are unique to every customer, just as human
    fingerprints are unique, and the issue becomes how long the company holds onto
    the details and whether they could become personally identifying later on, he

    Technology companies have walked a fine line for years on the issue of
    collecting information from consumers’ computers. Six years ago, RealNetworks
    Inc., whose software plays audio and video content on the Internet, released a
    patch for its RealJukebox program after the public learned the software was
    relaying personal information about users to the company.

    More recently, Google Inc. created a privacy backlash when it said its free
    e-mail service, Gmail, would include special software that inserts ads into
    personal e-mails based on their content.

    Clearly, Microsoft believes any risk of public-privacy concerns are worth
    incurring to fight a problem that has turned into an epidemic in some parts of
    the world.

    Microsoft has been fighting counterfeit efforts for years with limited
    success. It says that 35 percent of the world’s computers run counterfeit
    software and that piracy cost the global software industry $33.7 billion in