Beijing -- PC owners in China are resentful over Microsoft’s launch of “Windows Genuine Advantage” service, targeting Chinese computer users to ensure they buy genuine software, which turns users’ desktop backgrounds black if the PC’s software cannot be validated, according to the China Daily.
Bloggers in the People’s Republic have swamped blogs and bulletin boards slamming Microsoft to protest against the software maker’s anti-piracy tool that darkens screens if it detects unlicensed copies of Windows, besides, it also violates their right to privacy -- with one lawyer even reporting the firm to security officials for “hacking”.
Microsoft commands the Chinese market, and even the president, Hu Jintao, has said he uses its products. But with software piracy estimated at more than 90%, the firm’s profits fail to reflect its popularity.
The latest version of its “Windows Genuine Advantage” program, which causes the user’s background to go black at an hourly interval if the installed software fails a validation test, is Microsoft’s latest arm in its fight on piracy in China, where the huge majority of 200 million computer users are thought to be using fake software, unwittingly or not.
But the software behemoth’s attempt to protect its intellectual property sparked angry denunciations. “The computer is mine!” one angry blogger wrote on the web portal Sina.com. “Microsoft has no right to control my hardware without my agreement.”
The article refers to a number of PC owners, including one who has filed a complaint with China’s Ministry of Public Security, the Beijing attorney Dong Zhengwei, in an online post called Microsoft “the biggest hacker in China with its intrusion into users’ computer systems without their agreement or any judicial authority,” according to a report published Wednesday in the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper.
Zhengwei said the anti-piracy tool, part of Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage service, violates Chinese privacy laws, according to the report.
Even the China Software Industry Association, which the paper calls the only software organization in the country, is upset, and plans to pursue the issue with Microsoft, with its director saying “(Microsoft’s measure) is very bad and the whole industry in China must take it seriously.”
“The purpose ... is to help our customers to determine (if) genuine software is installed on their computers,” Microsoft, said in a statement.
“Microsoft’s measure will cause serious functional damage to users’ computers and, according to China’s Criminal Law; the company can stand accused of breaching and hacking into computer systems of Chinese.”
“I respect the right of Microsoft to protect its intellectual property but it is taking on the wrong target with wrong measures,” Zhengwei said.
Microsoft assesses that global piracy costs the software industry about $40 billion per year in lost sales. Recently, the company has been tracking down hackers and pirates more aggressively.
Last year, Microsoft announced that a joint effort with the FBI and Chinese authorities helped bust a major ring of software counterfeiters operating from the city of Guangdong in southern China. The gang was allegedly responsible for manufacturing and distributing more than $2 billion in fake Microsoft software.
But another blogger was arguing over the cost of authorized versions.
“If the price of genuine software was lower than the fake one, who would buy the fake one?” he wrote.
A visitor to a Beijing internet cafe said Microsoft was violating people’s rights.
“If, when I’m developing a program, and the computer screen goes black, that will probably cause some important information to be lost,” he said. “Who will pay me for my loss then?”
However, Microsoft has drastically lowered its prices in some emerging markets to reduce incentives to commit software piracy. Microsoft last year slashed prices on boxed versions of Windows Vista by almost 50% in some parts of Asia.
Fang Xingdong, an internet analyst and president of Internet research company Chinalabs.com, anticipated more problems ahead for Microsoft with the WGA program.
“Microsoft is manipulating our computers through the WGA and it will affect our use of computers,” Fang said.
“The company should stop the action immediately and do some constructive things, such as lowering the price of its software and changing its business models.”
Though, Microsoft is no stranger to controversy in China. A Chinese company in January filed a lawsuit claiming that the software maker is using its technology without paying for it.
Zhongyi claimed that Microsoft is in violation of a contract that authorizes Microsoft to embed Zhongyi’s Chinese-character translation software in the Windows operating system. Zhongyi claims Microsoft has not made a payment in 10 years -- despite its continued use of the software.
The software, called Zhengma, translates characters typed on an English-language keyboard into Chinese characters on screen.
The controversy comes a day after Microsoft’s Global Anti-Piracy Day, during which the company provided a snapshot of its anti-piracy efforts around the world