Windows Genuine Advantage has all the earmarks of spyware. What should the average user do about it?

Listen to the podcast: WGA: Is it spyware?

Hi everyone, this is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at

Windows Genuine Advantage, or WGA, has come under heavy fire lately. Among other things, Microsoft has been accused of:

a) Using Windows Update, which claims to only download “critical updates,” to download the decidedly non-critical WGA,
b) Designing WGA to contact servers back at Microsoft once a day – for reasons that haven’t fully been disclosed, and…
c) Not telling you about all this up front.

In short, it has all the characteristics of spyware. Many folks are quite upset, there’s even a lawsuit or two under way as a result.

The problem is that the goal of WGA – preventing software piracy – is actually quite laudable. Unfortunately Microsoft dropped the ball on execution. There are those who claim that this technology stands a high probability of eventually harming only legitimate users trying to do the right thing, while pirates continue to circumvent it. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft chose to roll this out in a very secret and underhanded way.

If we’re to trust Microsoft, Microsoft has to trust us, the market, and be open with what it’s up to, and why.

So what does this all mean for the average user?

Well, there are several folks out there who’re calling for a total avoidance of Windows Update. Personally, that seems like an extreme over reaction. The risks you take on by not getting the latest updates to me far outweigh the “risk” of WGA.

My take on it is simple: the average user should do nothing. Or rather, the average user should continue to use Windows Update as part of a comprehensive approach to Internet safety. Let the pundits and the courts take this issue to its inevitable conclusion. In my opinion, WGA does not currently represent any kind of threat. Even if it ever would have, which I actually doubt, because of industry publicity (and lawsuits), it’s now unlikely that it ever will.

As I said last week discussing Google’s new checkout service, it’s all about trust. Perhaps more than any other company, Microsoft needs to understand this. You’d think that by now they would. But given the blunder that is WGA, it’s so clear that they do not.

I’d love to hear what you think. Visit ask leo dot info, and enter 10485 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.

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[tags]spyware,podcast,leo notenboom,windows genuine advantage,wga[/tags]