Microsoft has decided to do something about piracy in China. In a country where 82% of all software is pirated Microsoft has this month decided to roll out Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA). This has led one Beijing lawyer to label Microsoft the "biggest hacker in China."
Dong Zhengwei, a Beijing lawyer claims in the China Daily that Microsoft's action could even be illegal under Chinese law. He calls the company the "biggest hacker in China with its intrusion into users' computer systems without their agreement or any judicial authority."
I've discussed how WGA works (WGA Vista SP1 | WGA XP) before so I won't cover that again, but there is one point worth making here. While Microsoft has made good progress in making WGA more accurate (especially when it comes to false-positives), and has toned down the effect that WGA has on a non-genuine system (for XP Pro and Vista users), I'm certain that Microsoft hasn't managed to get false positives down to zero. This means that given the size of this roll-out in China, there will be innocent people caught up in the net, so I hope Microsoft has plenty of support in place.
Does this action turn Microsoft into a hacker? I don't know. Gut feeling tells me that since it's Microsoft's code and people have agreed on installation to the terms then there's no element of hacking involved (and if the OS is pirated in the first place, it really doesn't give the person involved the moral high ground). However, laws vary wildly from country to country. I guess it also depends on how Microsoft is choosing to distribute WGA (Microsoft has various methods of getting WGA onto a system) and whether end users are given a clear opportunity to decline the update.
Sidenote: I also have to wonder about the negative effect that this could have on security if people in China decide to turn off Windows Updates.
As the economic seas become choppy, it's clear that Microsoft intends to put the squeeze on those who are hooked on the OS and haven't paid their dues. That relaxed attitude that Microsoft has taken to piracy ("the first one's free ...") might actually end up paying off. Or it might push more people to Linux.