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Buy Microsoft, Go to Jail?

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Do Microsoft's antipiracy polices go too far? Dr. Cyrus Peikari and Seth Fogie look at the terms of Windows Product Activation (WPA) and its enforcement by Microsoft's Business Software Alliance to see what implications these have for individual rights, the law, and the future survival of Microsoft itself.

For years Microsoft has lived dangerously. By using increasingly invasive consumer-monitoring technology, the company could now be flirting with economic disaster. In fact, Microsoft has recently implemented code that could be considered hostile both to privacy and to human dignity. This article explores these new technologies and their implications for individual rights, for the law, and for the future survival of Microsoft itself.

In this era of grass-roots movement toward open source code and universal standards, Microsoft's invasions of privacy and human dignity, if not rapidly and dramatically reversed, could finally spell the end of the company. For example, we will show that the humiliating terms of Windows Product Activation (WPA) and its terrifying enforcement by Microsoft's Business Software Alliance (BSA) enforcers could finally be enough to push its users to open source operating systems.

Worse, we will demonstrate that Microsoft's use of "Trojaned" service packs are potentially in severe violation of federal privacy standards such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Thus, a network administrator who purchases and deploys Microsoft software could soon possibly find himself or herself facing fines and imprisonment for violating federal law. Even users who are traditionally Microsoft's strongest supporters—including us—could finally be compelled to switch to Linux rather than go to jail to support Microsoft's invasive and potentially illegal technology.

Before we begin, allow us to offer an apology. This article is not meant to criticize any individual, least of all any of the hard-working men and women who program for Microsoft, many of whom are our close personal friends. However, we would not be true friends if we allowed them to rush blindly down the path of destruction. Thus, we respectfully submit these observations as a tool to help further the vital discussion of privacy and information security.

Windows Product Activation

Windows Product Activation (WPA) is a controversial antipiracy licensing scheme that was introduced in Windows XP and now includes Windows .NET Server. Retail copies of .NET Server, as well as some copies that are preloaded on OEM-purchased servers, now require activation via the Internet or by telephone. (Volume licensing does not require activation).

Critics have reported several potential problems with WPA. In fact, if Microsoft does not withdraw WPA altogether, .NET Server is likely to be a total market disaster. Rather than suffer such humiliation, the preponderance of administrators who are still loyal to Microsoft will defect en masse to Linux.

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