On Tuesday, Microsoft shipped an updated version of its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifications tool, the controversial Windows component that security researchers recently labeled as spyware. The new version no longer silently sends information via the Internet to Microsoft each time the PC on which it's installed reboots. Additionally, Microsoft has provided information about removing this egregious software component.
"Our customers have told us that they were disappointed with their WGA Notifications experience, and we have made an effort to improve that with this update," Microsoft wrote in a statement that describes the update.
WGA is designed to help Microsoft prevent software piracy. It's actually two components: WGA Validation, which determines whether the version of Windows on which it's running is legitimate, and WGA Notifications, which displays annoying alerts on pirated Windows copies and "phones home" information to Microsoft on a regular basis.
Recently, Microsoft came under fire for a change in its WGA Notifications component that caused WGA to send system-validation information to Microsoft every time the PC rebooted. Another concern was that Microsoft issued this WGA version to customers as a high-priority update through Automatic Updates and Windows Update, even though it was still beta code. The company was essentially using its customers as guinea pigs without their knowledge, then secretly using the tool to acquire piracy data.
Despite the privacy concerns, Microsoft defended its actions by noting that it has a right to know whether legitimate Windows users are using its software-updating services. The new version of WGA Notifications still displays annoying alerts to pirates. And it still sends data back the first time the test is run (on installation). However, now it won't check every time the system reboots, and it won’t send data back to Microsoft.
If you want to remove WGA Notifications from your system, you should know that it's not as simple as selecting the component in the Control Panel "Add or Remove Programs" applet. Microsoft has made removal instructions available on its Web site, but they are "not tested, supported or recommended." You know, just like WGA itself.