Microsoft Launches Piracy Reminders

Microsoft on Tuesday said it had completed the pilot phase for WGA Notifications, officially rolling out the anti-piracy reminders to Windows XP users worldwide. The company has made minor changes to the program in response to customer concern regarding its "phone home" functionality.

WGA Notifications is a component of Windows Genuine Advantage, an anti-piracy program implemented to detect counterfeit copies of Windows XP. The first piece of this initiative, WGA Validation, was launched in July 2005.

Microsoft later expanded the program with WGA Notifications, which causes users running counterfeit versions of Windows to be notified directly on their desktop that their operating system is not legitimate. While WGA has been generally well received, reports surfaced earlier this month that WGA Notifications connects to Microsoft servers on a daily basis.

The new sparked an outcry from privacy advocates who noted that Microsoft would know the user's IP address and the time they connected. Microsoft responded quickly, explaining that the feature was designed as a "safety switch" that would let the company disable WGA Notifications during the pilot phase if need be.

Now that testing is completed, Microsoft is delivering a new version of the tool to customers. The update no longer checks a configuration file located on Microsoft's servers, but the program will still communicate with the company periodically.

When asked how often customers' computers will connect to Microsoft, the company told BetaNews, " The frequency varies depending upon license type, but typically takes place every 90 days or so. This enables Microsoft to update our list of bad keys, and ensure that newly discovered counterfeits are not proliferating."

Microsoft has also changed the End-User Licensing Agreement (EULA) to more clearly specify the purpose of WGA Notifications. Although users rarely read such agreements, the company says it provides details on what customers should consider before installing the tool, along with an updated privacy statement covering its behavior.

Users can choose not to install the new version of WGA Notifications, Microsoft says. The company is providing instructions on how to remove the previous version of the software for those who do not want to upgrade. However, it's not clear whether WGA Notifications will install automatically through Automatic Updates in Windows.

In addition, Customers who do not install WGA Notifications will have the same restrictions as those with a non-genuine copy of Windows. Critical security updates can still be obtained through Automatic Updates, but no other downloads can be made through the Microsoft download center or Windows Update.

All English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch and Brazilian Portuguese users of Windows XP running Automatic Updates will soon be offered an updated package with a new version of WGA Notifications, Microsoft said.

Users who may have unknowingly purchased counterfeit software are eligible for a free genuine copy at no cost as long as they fill out a piracy report as well as provide proof of purchase and surrender the counterfeit CDs. Microsoft says about 60% of users promoted to install WGA do so.

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