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Microsoft's Biggest Hacker in China After Massive Anti-Piracy Crackdown

Microsoft' rolling out of the Windows Genuine Advantage tool across China has affected thousands of Chinese Windows users and has led one Chinese lawyer to say that Microsoft was China's biggest hacker.

Dong Zhengwei, a lawyer based in Beijing, wrote to the Ministry of Public security lambasting Microsoft fo illegally intruding people's computer and "sabotaging their private systems". Ironically and as judiciously pointed out by Stuart King of Computerweekly (opens in new tab), China's own anti piracy laws allow companies to "adopt protection functions such as encryption software communication protocols, software installation licenses, software registration certificates and digital watermarkings".

The tool causes Windows to change the background to a black screen every hour and display constant warning messages like "Activate Windows Now" and is seen as Microsoft as an effective means to curb rampant piracy in Asia and more particularly in China which has a 82 percent piracy rate according to the Business Software Alliance annual global software piracy study.

Chinese users have reacted angrily with an anonymous blogger saying that "it is illegal to install any program on a PC without the permit of the owner" (although he fails to point out that WGA is opt-in) and there are already dozens of ways of over-riding WGA available online.

The high price of Windows applications has also been underlined as one reason why piracy rates are so high. But then, while neither Linux nor Openoffice have been hitherto as successful as Windows and Office.

Although not the highest percentage worldwide, Piracy in China still amounted to USD 6.66 bn in 2007, the largest amount by far and accounted for roughly one sixth of the world's global piracy losses.

There are more than 200 million computer users in China with most of them use Windows as operating system on top of which millions use Microsoft Office as their main business application suite.

Copyright violations and Piracy in China are not something new. 99 percent of music downloads in the country are illegal and it is not difficult to find pirated movie DVDs and software compilation CDs for less than £1.

Microsoft's decision to launch WGA and OGA (Office Genuine Advantage) in China is part of the Global Anti-Piracy Day which takes places today across 49 countries.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.