CHINA> Society
Sparks fly as computer screens go black
By Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-10-22 06:57

Software giant Microsoft has sparked a major controversy among millions of Chinese computer users with the nationwide launch Tuesday of its "Screen Blackout" anti-piracy program.

Dong Zhengwei, 35, a Beijing lawyer, described Microsoft "as the biggest hacker in China with its intrusion into users' computer systems without their agreement or any judicial authority".

Dong, who filed a complaint with the Ministry of Public Security on Sunday, told China Daily Tuesday: "Microsoft's measure will cause serious functional damage to users' computers and, according to China's Criminal Law, the company can stand accused of breaching and hacking into computer systems of Chinese."

Dubbed Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), it is the company's latest measure in its war against piracy in a country with over 200 million computer users. It has already used the program in the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Japan and South Korea.

The company announced a week earlier that the anti-piracy software would be automatically installed on users' computers through a routine Internet-based updated mechanism. If a computer fails a validation test, the desktop changes to a plain black background when the computer is restarted.

Users will be able to reset the black background to any wallpaper or another color but the screen reverts to black every hour until a genuine copy of Windows is installed and validates.

"I respect the right of Microsoft to protect its intellectual property but it is taking on the wrong target with wrong measures," Dong said.

"They should target producers and sellers of fake software, not users. The authorities should take action to protect citizens' property and privacy rights."

An online survey at suggested more than four in five respondents said the Microsoft move would not be effective in curbing software piracy.

Though few instances of screen blackout were reported on the first day of the action, Internet experts and industry insiders have expressed grave concern at the move.

Fang Xingdong, an Internet analyst and president of Internet research company, believes that more Chinese customers will follow Dong in defending their rights.

"Microsoft is manipulating our computers through the WGA and it will affect our use of computers," Fang said.

"The company should stop the action immediately and do some constructive things, such as lowering the price of its software and changing its business models."

The China Software Industry Association (CSIA), the only software industrial organization in the country, is also planning to take action against the software giant.

"It (Microsoft's measure) is very bad and the whole industry in China must take it seriously," CSIA director Chen Chong told China Daily Tuesday.

But Microsoft reiterated that it is helping users ensure that they can purchase high quality and legal products if they had been deceived earlier.

"Once people know more about the WGA program and are clear about what we are doing, they will stop complaining," a PR executive with Microsoft China said Tuesday.

"We are helping them get a genuine Microsoft product because they sometimes may not know they have paid for a fake one."

A further media briefing on the technical issues of the WGA program will be held today, the company said.