Editor’s Note, June 14, 2006 —
The Q&A has been updated to add a question and answer about WGA Notifications being distributed through Automatic Updates.
REDMOND, Wash., June 8, 2006 — On April 24 as part of the Genuine Software Initiative, Microsoft expanded a pilot of the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program that provides notifications to consumers using non-genuine Microsoft Windows XP. Every year millions of consumers and businesses are hurt by counterfeit software that they have purchased unwittingly, and many companies that sell legitimate software have difficulty competing with low “too good to be true” prices offered by software counterfeiters. Through WGA, Microsoft is working to help customers and resellers of Microsoft products reduce the threats posed by counterfeit software.
The WGA program was launched July 2005 to provide an improved experience for consumers using genuine Windows XP and to help Microsoft address software piracy. The first phase of the WGA Notifications pilot was launched in Norway and Sweden during November 2005. In February 2006 five additional countries were added, and the program was further expanded in April 2006 and again in May 2006 to other markets around the world.
The WGA program consists of two major components, WGA Validation and WGA Notifications. Validation determines whether the copy of Windows XP installed on a PC is genuine and licensed. WGA Notifications reminds users who fail validation that they are not running genuine Windows and directs them to resources to learn more about the benefits of using genuine Windows software.
Recent public discussions about WGA Notifications have raised questions about its operation. Shortly after logon, WGA Notifications checks whether a newer settings file is available and downloads the file if one is found. The settings file provides Microsoft with the ability to update how often reminders are displayed and to disable the program if necessary during the test period. This functionality enables Microsoft to respond quickly to feedback to improve the customer’s experience. Unlike validation, which sends system information to Microsoft, this operation is limited to the download of the new settings file. No additional information is sent to Microsoft. There have been some questions on this issue, and Microsoft is working to more effectively communicate details of this feature to the public.
As a result of customer concerns around performance, we are changing this feature to only check for a new settings file every 14 days. This change will be made in the next release of WGA. Also, this feature will be disabled when WGA Notifications launches worldwide later this year.
To help clarify some details about WGA Notifications, we have posted some Frequently Asked Questions below.
Q: What happens when WGA Notifications communicates with Microsoft when a PC is booted up? Why is this function a part of WGA Notifications?
A: The pilot version of this software periodically contacts Microsoft after validation. The software checks whether a newer settings file is available and downloads the file if one is found. The settings file gives Microsoft the ability to update how often reminders are displayed and to disable the program if necessary during the test period. Unlike validation, which sends system information to Microsoft, this operation is limited to the download of the new settings file. No additional information is sent to Microsoft.
Q: What information is collected in this check? Is Microsoft collecting Personally Identifiable Information?
A: Other than standard server log information, no information is collected. Unlike validation, which sends system information to Microsoft, this operation is limited to the download of the new settings file. No additional information is sent to Microsoft.
Q: Why were customers not told that their PCs would periodically check in with Microsoft?
A: Microsoft strives to maintain the highest standards in our business conduct and meet our customers’ expectations. We concentrated our disclosure on the critical validation step that would occur when validating through WGA. Not specifically including information on the periodic check was an oversight. We believe that being transparent and upfront with our customers is very important and have updated our FAQ accordingly. We have gone to great lengths to document any time a Microsoft product connects with Microsoft servers and will continue to do so. For example, we published a white paper that covers the topic of connecting with Microsoft Servers in Windows XP SP2.
Q: Some people are saying that WGA is spyware. Is this true?
A: Broadly speaking, spyware is deceptive software that is installed on a user’s computer without the user’s consent and has some malicious purpose. WGA is installed with the consent of the user and seeks only to notify the user if a proper license is not in place. WGA is not spyware.
Q: Why is it so important that users run genuine software?
A: Every year millions of consumers and businesses are impacted by counterfeit software that is purchased unwittingly, and many makers of legitimate software have difficulty competing with the low prices offered by counterfeiters. Through WGA, Microsoft is working to help customers and retailers of its products reduce the threats posed by counterfeit software. With counterfeit software, users expose themselves to the possibility of a system becoming infected by spyware or other malware. The chance of receiving incomplete code also increases when consumers are sold counterfeit software over the Internet. Microsoft has also seen instances of credit card theft by those purporting to sell software online that later turned out to be counterfeit.
Q: WGA Notifications is pre-release software that is distributed through Automatic Updates. Is this a change in Microsoft policy around pre-release software?
A: No, this is not a change in policy. We understand customers’ concern about installing a program that could possibly impact their systems. WGA Notifications has gone through a thorough testing period. We are confident that the software can be installed and used safely. It is important to note that the pilot process is primarily testing the end-to-end delivery mechanism and we will continue to incorporate customer feedback in order to ensure the best possible user experience when WGA Notifications launches worldwide before the end of 2006.
As with any pre-release software, WGA Notifications is optional for customers. There is no penalty for opting-out; customers who choose not to install WGA Notifications will still receive high-priority updates delivered via Automatic Updates. We hope that genuine Windows customers will find WGA Notifications easy to use and unobtrusive, and will enjoy knowing that they are running a genuine copy of Windows.