Windows is spyware

Microsoft is now updating Windows without your being aware of it? And after you told it not to? That's what spyware does.

Microsoft has crossed the line. They have been disliked by many techies, for arrogance, incompetence and more. But, this wasn't a universal opinion and reasonable people could have disagreed. Now however, the question of Microsoft's corporate character has left the realm of opinion and landed firmly in fact.

They are bad guys.

If there was any doubt, the final straw came today, in the September 13 edition of the Windows Secrets newsletter where the lead article by Scott Dunn (Microsoft updates Windows without users' consent) ended the debate.

According to Scott, "Microsoft has begun patching files on Windows XP and Vista without users' knowledge, even when the users have turned off auto-updates."

Wow. Updating Windows without your being aware of it? And after telling it not to? That's what spyware does. It's what the bad guys do. And now, it's what Microsoft does. They seem to think that they own Windows, and you and I are just renting our copies. Maybe we should read the lease.

There's a saying in the computer security field that if a bad guy gets physical access to your computer, it's not your computer anymore. If Microsoft can silently update Windows against our will, whose computer is it?

Over at ZDNet, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has Confirmation of stealth Windows Update. He describes a Windows XP machine that was set to download new bug fixes and notify the user, but not to automatically install anything. Yet, install it did.

He writes "I just don't like the idea of having updates foisted upon systems without being aware that they are coming in and having the option to postpone them. Why? Simple. IT'S MY PC!!!" No, Adrian, it's not your computer anymore. It has been assimilated into Microsoft's collective. Rather than being an individual, your copy of Windows does what the Queen tells it to do.

Windows is now malware and our computers are zombies.

The changes Scott describes affect Windows Update. Anyone who runs Windows Update manually, as I prefer to, has been forced to install new versions of it over and over and over again. So why the secrecy this time? And speaking of secrecy, Scott says "To make matters even stranger, a search on Microsoft's Web site reveals no information at all on the stealth updates."

It's inconceivable to me, that any other software company would do exactly what their customers told them not to do.

Exhibit Two


Exhibit two against Microsoft's corporate character is Windows Update.

Many Windows users still have a dial-up Internet connection. The bug fixes to Windows are often large, and a dial-up user may find them too big to download, especially after falling way behind in applying them. Nothing new here, it's been true for years.

So why doesn't Microsoft sell, at cost, a CD containing Windows bug fixes? They did once, briefly, in reaction to a torrent of publicity about security problems in Windows. Why was this the exception and not the rule?

Next time, defending yourself against Microsoft --how to really turn off Automatic Updates. Then back to surge protectors.


Update: September 14, 2007. Integrated Adrian Kingsley-Hughes topic into the posting.

About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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