Genuine Advantage is Microsoft spyware

By Brian Livingston

Windows Genuine Advantage — the controversial program Microsoft auto-installed as a "critical security update" on many PCs starting on Apr. 25 — not only causes problems for many users but has now been proven to send personally identifiable information back to Redmond every 24 hours.

This behavior clearly fits any plausible definition of "spyware." Some tech writers have said categorizing WGA as spyware is arguable. But I have no hesitation in calling the program a security nightmare that Microsoft should never have distributed in its present form.

In my May 25 newsletter, I called Microsoft’s WGA download a "severe blunder." It causes serious problems for some legitimate Windows users and was sprung on customers with no notice other than a press release the day before.

No PC-using company that values security and reliability can allow a program like WGA to send data to a distant server, download additional software, morph its behavior, or remotely change the functionality of Windows (as I describe below). I don’t believe individuals should put up with this, either.

Today, I’ll explain the problems and let you know what you can do to fix them.

If the spyware label fits, wear it

In a statement released on June 8, Microsoft officially denies that WGA is spyware. Let’s settle this question right off the bat so we can quickly move on to more important things.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2006-06-15: