Growing interference on the customer’s PC

It used to be that the customer’s PC program files were sacrosanct – safe from interference from well-meaning security applications. Not anymore. Recently it was reported that Microsoft remotely deleted the Tor browser from two million PCs. Without asking their customers for permission.

This is a new, significant trend. Security companies have never before interfered with program files without user permission to this extent. Are our program files now safe from interference from Microsoft and other AV companies?

Sure, Microsoft would rationalise the remote deletions were warranted because the version of Tor browser contained the Sefnit botnet malware. But there has never been any debate that I know of, concluding that this intervention without permission is acceptable. I seem to recall that the last time this issue was raised several years ago, the conclusion was that a security application does not have the right to remotely delete user’s program files without asking for permission.

Were Microsoft influenced to delete Tor because they themselves have a competing browser? Last time I looked, the debate between Microsoft and their Explorer browser occurred with Netscape in the courts, and my recollection is that Microsoft lost that debate. Have Microsoft been influenced by the mobile world where App Store owners have the ability to remotely delete program files from mobile devices without permission? And where is this trend of remotely deleting program files headed?

While on the subject of Microsoft, there are other aspects of interference without permission that raise ire.

An example is remote PC restarting. How often have you experienced the anxiety of seeing the spreadsheet that you spent hours working on the previous evening, suddenly loading in safe mode, because someone at Redmond decided to reboot your PC overnight while you were asleep? In my company, whenever we need to occasionally update our software, we push the updates silently in the background, and a PC restart is never required. However if a PC restart was required to activate the new files, we would never simply do that without our customer’s express permission – it is a step too far in interference.

My current PC runs Win 8.0. Every now and again, a message pops up asking whether I want to upgrade to Windows 8.1. There are only two options provided: “Visit the Store to upgrade” or “Remind me later”. I don’t want to do either – I need to occasionally run software builds on Windows 8.0. However someone in Redmond decided that I really should upgrade, and I am not given an option of “No thanks”.

The appointment of new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is an amazing feel-good story of opportunity, achievement, and inspiration. Born in Hyderabad India he emigrated to the US to pursue his education and his dream. His success is a great inspiration to many others around the world.

Microsoft is a great company with a proud history and an impressive, unparalleled track record. Occasionally however, they can be a little heavy handed when it comes to riding roughshod over the competition and interfering without permission. Perhaps Nadella can remind his organisation of the need to tread carefully, to respect user’s privacy and to cut back on unilateral interference.

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