Windows 10 could de-activate fake software and hardware

Windows 10 on PC screenWindows 10 - Microsoft’s new operating system released on July 29 - may force-feed updates to your PC which disable unauthorised hardware and counterfeit games, according to the company's usage guidelines.

Where pirated software is present the platform could also block access to Microsoft services such as OneDrive, Skype, Bing, Office 365 and many others, according to reports.

Coupled with Microsoft's new free-to-consumers distribution model, it is a sweeping effort against counterfeiting and piracy, reports's US correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Indeed, all software accessed using a Microsoft Account is potentially a target of the new features, which are implemented by automatic, Microsoft-controlled updates. (Microsoft Account was previously known as Windows Live ID).

These targets would include Windows 10 itself, if installed, as is likely, by a consumer using a Microsoft Account. While it is possible to install Windows 10 without logging into an Account, that option is well-hidden in the installation routine.

This ability to disable devices and software is outlined in the Microsoft Terms of Service, in effect since August 1:

"...sometimes you’ll need software updates to keep using the Services. We may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices."

The impact of these changes may be very great, considering that Microsoft is offering free upgrades from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10 for consumers. Even "non-genuine" versions - read 'fakes - are eligible for the free upgrade, although there are still some questions about this apparent amnesty plan. Business versions of Windows are not eligible.  But the end result may be that up to 1 billion PCs might be affected.  The free offer is currently limited to one year.

An aim of the free upgrade is the opportunity to "re-engage with the Chinese market," according to Terry Myerson, head of the company's operating systems unit, as cited by Reuters.

About 74 per cent of commercial software in China is non-genuine. Worldwide, 43 per cent is not genuine. If this step is successful in drawing Chinese PCs back into the Windows ecosystem, the revenue and market share gains would be very significant.

And of course, once Windows 10 is installed on the non-genuine PCs, those auto-updates kick in, now also aimed right at the heart of one of the world's great counterfeit and piracy centres.

It is very early in the Windows 10 rollout, and we can be sure that much will clarify or change. For example, in the case of what might look like amnesty for pirated Windows software, Microsoft's position has reportedly already been amended:

"If a device was considered non-genuine or mislicensed prior to the upgrade, that device will continue to be considered non-genuine or mislicensed after the upgrade."

The picture so far then: an officially "non-genuine" device using officially authorised Windows software.  We can only wait for Microsoft to sort this one out.

Also, the "unauthorized hardware" which would be disabled by those auto-updates must mean, for starters, counterfeit Xbox controllers. But could the reach be longer, say to hardware with driver software that is not approved by Microsoft for connection to Windows (unsigned drivers)? 

It will also be interesting to see whether "counterfeit games" includes only Xbox games, or all Internet-connected games on a PC.

At the moment, most of the controversy around Windows 10 is trained on accusations of privacy invasion. But as time goes on, we expect to learn more about Microsoft’s automated anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting feature. 

The services agreement covers Windows 10, Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Xbox One and came into effect August 1.

Image courtesy of:
Stanislaw Mikulski /

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