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Microsoft wins WGA spyware lawsuit

Windows Genuine Advantage gets green light

A judge dismissed a lawsuit that was filed against Microsoft over its much-criticised Windows Genuine Advantage program in 2006.

The judge in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington on Thursday dismissed the case, leaving each party to pay its own lawyer fees. In a statement, Microsoft said it was pleased the case was "resolved successfully". It did not say whether it agreed to any kind of settlement arrangement.

The suit essentially characterised WGA as spyware, charging Microsoft with failing to describe the tool’s functions before downloading it onto the plaintiffs' computers. WGA was designed to determine whether a user’s version of Windows was pirated. It sent regular information back to Microsoft about user’s hardware and software and warned users of piracy violations.

“Contrary to the express statements Microsoft made in the inadequate disclosures that were provided, the software collected and communicated private identifying information from consumer’s computers and sent that information back to Microsoft on a daily basis," the complaint read.

In January, the plaintiffs failed to have the suit certified as a class action, a blow to their case.

Shortly after the suit was filed, amid a storm of criticism, Microsoft released a new version of WGA with a reduced schedule of reporting user information back to the software giant. Months later it changed WGA again so as to not cut off users of Windows XP who had uncertain licenses. Those users were being labeled as having illegitimate software and were periodically asked to reinstall or buy a new version, even though in many cases the software was legitimate.

WGA caused other problems as well. Once, after a worker accidentally loaded software onto the live system, Windows XP and Vista users were told via the WGA system that they had pirated copies of their software. The problem lasted more than a day before it was fully corrected.

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