Microsoft to ease up on piracy check-ins

Antipiracy tool will reduce check-ins to biweekly, instead of after each boot-up, and will stop checking-in entirely later this year.

Microsoft is cutting the cord on its antipiracy tool.

The software maker this month plans to update the Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications program so that it only checks in with Microsoft once every two weeks, instead of after each boot-up, a company representative said Friday. By year's end, the tool will stop pinging Microsoft altogether, the representative said.

The changes come after a critic likened the antipiracy tool to spyware. He found that the program, designed to validate whether a copy of Windows has been legitimately acquired, checks in with Microsoft on a daily basis. Microsoft did not disclose in any of its documentation that the application would phone home.

Microsoft earlier this week had vowed to better disclose the actions of WGA Notifications. Now the company says it will gradually let go of the program once it is installed on Windows PCs.

"We are changing this feature to only check for a new settings file every 14 days," Microsoft said in a statement on its Web site. "Also, this feature will be disabled when WGA Notifications launches worldwide later this year."

No meaningful data is exchanged during the check-in with Microsoft, the software maker said. Unlike the initial validation, which sends system information to Microsoft, the check-in operation is limited to the download of the new settings file, the company said.

Microsoft launched WGA in September 2004 and has gradually expanded the antipiracy program. It now requires validation before Windows users can download additional Microsoft software, such as Windows Media Player and Windows Defender. Validation is not required for security fixes.

Originally, people had to validate their Windows installation only when downloading additional Microsoft software. Since November last year, however, Microsoft has been pushing out the WGA Notifications tool along with security updates to people in a number of countries, including the U.S.

The first time that users run WGA Validation to check if their Windows version is genuine, the information sent to Microsoft is the Windows XP product key, PC maker, operating system version, PC bios information and the user's local setting and language. Microsoft discloses in the WGA tool license that this information is being sent.

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