Is Windows XP dipping into spyware?

The following comment from a privacy forum was posted to a list I subscribe to: "A recent Microsoft update to Windows XP, which modifies the tool that verifies the 'validity' of XP installations to ensure that they are not illicit, may itself be considered to be spyware under commonly accepted definitions."

This update to the Microsoft Genuine Advantage tool, as it is called, will apparently nag you should it decide that you don't have a kosher copy and will eventually disable certain "noncritical" features.

Many are concerned that the Microsoft Genuine Advantage "tool will now attempt to contact Microsoft over the Internet every time that you boot. . . . Perhaps it stops after some number of boots, but there's no indication of such a limit so far. The connections occur even if you do not have Windows 'automatic update' enabled."

Microsoft has admitted that Microsoft Genuine Advantage does indeed call back to the mothership and that its user licence agreement failed to mention the fact. So, as none of us agreed that Microsoft could do this, it sure sounds like it is guilty of distributing spyware.

We can all appreciate Microsoft's desire to stop or at least reduce piracy, but there is a level of verification that is unacceptable.

Microsoft Genuine Advantage is not the only development we should be concerned about. The company's latest foray into owning more of the universe is the Windows Live OneCare service (www.windowsonecare.com).

OneCare is a package of Windows security and maintenance tools with products that have traditionally been supplied by other companies, such as Sophos, Norton and Symantec.

Microsoft is once again constricting user choice by sheer marketing force and when the ecology is reduced, innovation will suffer. Add to that the potential danger of digital pandemics from viruses and hackers increasing by orders of magnitude and things don't look good.

You doubt that digital pandemics would be more likely? Consider that Microsoft is well known for taking shortcuts in its coding to "assist" its own legacy products. That means we are establishing a support infrastructure on top of an intrinsically compromised architecture.

What's your take on this? E-mails to Sandra_Rossi@idg.com.au

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