Windows 10 automatically scans your computer for pirated software, but that's a good thing

Piracy is a major issue for software manufacturers like Microsoft. Privacy is a major issue for software users like you and me. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, is walking a fine line between both of these loaded P-words.

Here’s what happened: 

  • Microsoft issued a new Terms of Use agreement on August 1, specifically pertaining to “Microsoft Services.”
  • “Microsoft Services” are things like communications application Skype, voice assistant Cortana, and online gaming service and storefront Xbox Live. There are many more, but those are some of the biggies.
  • The new Terms of Use agreement had language in it that some folks in the privacy camp took umbrage with. This language in particular:
Microsoft user agreementMicrosoftAn image of the August 1, 2015 Terms of Use agreement from Microsoft for ‘Microsoft Services.’

The specific line that caused an issue was, “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 unauthorised hardware peripheral devices.” 

In plain English: Microsoft reserves the right to stop allowing you access to its “Services” should it find “counterfeit games” (read: pirated games) or “unauthorised hardware peripheral devices” on your system. And it can check your system remotely, as Windows has for years.

This sent up a red flag for privacy folks. Even The Hulk weighed in!

And you know things are serious when The Hulk weighs in.

But, from our reading of the Terms of Use, it sounds like Microsoft is just trying to protect its services from tampering. If you could run pirated games with altered code over, say, Xbox Live, that could ruin the experience of the millions of Xbox Live users who aren’t running altered code. A great way to prevent that is by scanning computers running Windows 10 and making it impossible for that pirated software to run while using various Microsoft services. 

But, to be fair, the language in the Terms of Use isn’t totally clear — it’s legalese. So we asked Microsoft for some clarification, and here’s what we were told by a Microsoft spokesperson:

The Microsoft Services Agreement allows Microsoft to change or discontinue certain apps or content where we deem your security is at risk. This section of the Microsoft Services Agreement is consistent with language in former Terms of Use agreements, which carried over with the introduction of the unified services agreement on August 1. Software that is pirated or botted places the safety and security of our customers at risk, including a higher risk of malware, fraud, public exposure of personal information, and poor performance or feature malfunction. We remain committed to protecting our customers from the risks of non-genuine software and protecting the intellectual property of developers of all types of content.

Not exactly the breath of fresh air we were hoping for, but it does break down the language a bit more clearly. If nothing else, it spells out Microsoft’s motives behind scanning Windows 10 user’s computers for pirated software.

This line in particular stands out: “Software that is pirated or botted places the safety and security of our customers at risk, including a higher risk of malware, fraud, public exposure of personal information, and poor performance or feature malfunction.”

Where things get blurry is Microsoft’s definition of “non-genuine software.” How does Microsoft define said software? We asked, but haven’t heard back just yet.

Ultimately, this is intended to protect users from having bad experiences on Windows 10, and to protect users of Microsoft Services from having bad experiences. How that will actually play out is another question. 

One issue has already arisen: games using ageing protection software (“SecuROM” and “SafeDisc” software) won’t run on Windows 10. As PC gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun points out, this means hundreds of older games simply won’t function on Windows 10. It’s a calculated tradeoff Microsoft is making for the safety of the whole Windows 10 user base, rather than catering to a relatively niche group of folks looking to play older games. 

Here’s Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s explanation:

Games which used these forms of DRM range from “Crimson Skies” to “Grand Theft Auto 3,” “Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004” to the original “The Sims.” Yet despite this change coming in Windows 10, blame can’t likely be placed at Microsoft’s feet. For one, SafeDisc is notoriously insecure and Microsoft’s decision to block it from their new operating system will likely protect more users than it hurts.

And that’s sound logic.

Unfortunately, for these folks — and the potentially larger group of people who run what Microsoft deems “non-genuine software” in Windows 10 — Microsoft’s new Terms of Use aren’t in their favour. And that may be the right thing to do for everyone.

NOW WATCH: The 7 best new features coming to Windows 10

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