Windows 10 Lawsuit Threatens Security, Innovation

  • MORE

Everyone loves uncovering hidden features in Windows. I'll never forget the time I figured out how to disable a default feature in the Edge Browser by creating a new Registry entry. Recently, lawyers have discovered their own hidden gem in Windows 10: lawsuit mode. And users could soon be paying the price, with less security and innovation.

microsoft lawsuit lumbergh

According to The Seattle Times, California travel agent Teri Goldstein recently sued Microsoft for causing her PC to upgrade to Windows 10 without her explicit permission, and won $10,000. Rather than appeal and spend more on attorney fees, the company chose to set a dangerous precedent, giving Goldstein her money without further legal challenge.

Microsoft might have the deep pockets to pay for lawyers, but what about the lone developer who writes a single app?

MORE: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Promote Windows 10 Without Fooling Users

If software vendors can't issue automatic upgrades without fear of a lawsuit, then we're all in huge trouble. A company the size of Microsoft might have the deep pockets to pay for lawyers or settlements, but what about the lone developer who writes a single, 99-cent app and posts it in an app store? What about nonprofit, open-source organizations pushing their own operating systems?

There's no doubt that Microsoft is pushing its new platform very aggressively, but everyone, even diehard Mac users, should hope the company succeeds in getting most people to move to Windows 10. For both security and functionality reasons, all operating-system vendors should always be upgrading their core software automatically and seamlessly. For the good of the entire ecosystem, users should have to upgrade, as they are pretty much forced to do on many other platforms.

Modern operating systems are filled with potential security holes that need to be patched on a regular basis. While it works to improve Windows 10, Microsoft still has to waste a ton of dollars and developer hours on securing Windows 7 until 2020 and Windows 8.1 until 2023.

Imagine going to jail, because you didn't patch your PC.

Unfortunately, more than 10 percent of computers on the Internet are running Windows XP, an OS from 2001, which no longer gets security patches at all. Windows 10 accounts for only17 percent of those computers, while Windows 7 dominates with 48 percent. How much better could Windows security be if the company could focus only on the current version?

When you have an insecure operating system, you're a risk to not only yourself, but the entire Internet. Without your knowledge, your computer could be part of botnet that hackers use to attack legitimate businesses or governments. Your personal information could be compromised and used to steal from banks and other creditors.

MORE: How to Upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8

The problem of insecure computers is so serious that some experts think regular users should be held legally responsible. Imagine going to jail or being sued into bankruptcy, because you didn't patch your PC and a hacker used it to rob a bank.

"Perhaps, the only way to get individuals to take this seriously and actually change their behavior –– to be more attentive to issues of security," writes Josephine Wolff, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, "is if there are concrete penalties and consequences associated with participating in bots, falling for phishing attacks, failing to install security updates, and other basics of computer hygiene." 

PC users should also be rooting for Windows 10 to kill Windows 7 and 8, because the new OS enables a new type of software — universal apps. Universal apps take advantage of Windows 10's unique ability to switch between tablet and desktop modes as they change their UIs accordingly. The very same apps also run on Windows 10-powered phones. But developers aren't going to create as many of these apps if they know that only a small fraction of computers can run them.

Android users can only wish that Google was able to push its latest OS upgrades to their phones. Instead, because phone vendors and carriers who couldn't care less have to issue the upgrades, most users have old versions of the operating system that aren't as secure and don't have all the latest APIs for apps. Developers won't build apps that take advantage of new features available in Android 6.0 when 92.5 percent of phones are running older versions. However, when Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile bothers sending an over-the-air update to your phone, you can delay it, but you can't reject it forever, without rooting your phone.

Want to use the Google Docs from 2010? Sorry, you're out of luck.

Google solved the fragmentation problem by making its Chrome browser and Chrome OS automatically update in the background. You don't get a choice to stick with an old version of Chrome. Heck, you don't even know you've been upgraded.

Apple automatically alerts you to iOS upgrades and, though you can hit cancel on these messages, the system will not stop nagging you until you install them. No wonder 84 percent of iPhone and iPads now have the latest version of the OS, iOS 9.

Cloud-based software also updates seamlessly. Want to use the Google Docs from 2010? Sorry, you're out of luck.

Microsoft should be more up-front with users and drop the pretense of giving them the option not to upgrade.

Microsoft has received a lot of criticism — deservedly — in the past few months for pushing Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade via automatic updates that make it difficult to opt out. In one recent example, a prompt that implores users to "Get Windows 10" continued to install the OS, even if you hit the "X" button to close its window. You had to go into a different menu to prevent the upgrade. However, this week, Microsoft promised to change this particular behavior.

Windows 10 Notification

"Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to update," Goldstein told The Seattle Times. She also said that she had "never heard of" Windows 10. I'm going to guess that she probably got one of those prompts at some point and didn't know how to interpret it.

But, for all the reasons we've mentioned, Microsoft is right to nudge users onto its new platform. If anything, the company should be more up-front with users and drop the pretense of giving them the option not to upgrade. The company could also incentivize users to upgrade with better first-party apps, a longer deadline and lower licensing fees for system builders.

MORE: How to Use Windows 10

Microsoft should also provide better support for upgraders. Goldstein claims that Windows 10 crashed her computer and that Microsoft's support techs couldn't fix it.

I too have experienced some problems with Windows 10 upgrades. Recently, I tried to upgrade two different laptops to Windows 10 and, after several failed attempts, was only able to upgrade one of them. One laptop fell asleep during the download and had to restart from 0 percent when I woke it up. The other said it didn't have enough space for Window 10, even though it had 150GB free. My wife has been trying to upgrade her desktop for over six months and keeps getting cryptic errors that say "something happened."

However, the solution to problems like Goldstein's and mine is not a wad of cash to buy a new computer, but better software and support from Microsoft. If we live in a world where companies are afraid to push important software updates to their users, the problem will be bigger than just a few failed upgrades.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
11 comments
  • windows user Says:

    PS, if I want facebook, I will open facebook. My OS should not be facebook. Or worse, Yahoo!

  • windows user Says:

    Universal apps is one of the reasons I didn't upgrade to Windows 10. I am using a computer, not a phone or tablet. The point of using a computer is that I can have more than one window open: I can multitask. If some secondary program, like Skype, will run only full-screen or not at all, then I consider that a broken concept.

    Windows 8/10 is like VISTA to me. Do Not Like. Unproductive. I will wait for the design flaws to be fixed, or go Mac. Anything but that.

    Also, what everyone else said.

  • Dave S Says:

    An "upgrade" should be an improvement not a total disruption.

    If Microsoft wants me to "upgrade" there are several important qualifications they need to meet.

    1. Recent hardware needs to be supported. On the 4 computers I "upgraded" all 4 had hardware that failed to work, most of it less than 1 year old. That included CD/DVD drives that all worked once when installed on a computer and then stopped. If something can work once on each computer it is installed in then it is obviously a software issue not a hardware issue.

    2. Software compatibility. Several critical programs failed to work. Others only partially worked. There is NO backward compatibility.

    3. Don't delete my files and move them all over the computer.

    4. Putting in eye candy features is nice, but does not require moving settings all over the place to disable useless garbage. A filing cabinet after a tornado has dumped it has better organization.

    5. My internet usage needs to be my choice. The ability to receive constant news updates is nice.... if I wanted it. Turning on my computer should not result in automatic internet downloads of things I don't care for with no easy way to turn it off. It makes it take longer for the computer to be functional even if it is technically booted, and the popups informing me of the latest celebrity gossip are usually blocking my view of what i am actually trying to do.

    6. The "upgrade" "assistant" needs to actually function well enough to tell what the upgrade will cause. Basic install capability does not equal compatibility. Example. Windows 10 upgrade will cause 1 hardware malfunction and 3 programs not to work. Click here for possible solutions.

    Saying updates should be mandatory is great. Windows decision not to support hardware and software is not. NO other company forces upgrades on systems not compatible. All major companies tell you when your hardware will not receive any more updates due to comparability issues. That is usually years, not just a few months.

    I will upgrade when Microsoft fixes the problems and not before. If the problems are not fixed.... well there are alternatives out there. The time until I switch to IOS and/or Linux is getting shorter. Quickly.

  • Jason Says:

    This is a poorly written article. Did Microsoft pay you to write this?
    The concern here isn’t the automatic security updates, it’s the automatic operating system update.
    Specifically:
    1. The operating system upgrade hindered her ability to work.
    2. The operating system upgrade was done deceptively (closing a window does not mean “ok”)
    3. There was no clear ability for her to opt out of the upgrade (something typically offered to users)
    Microsoft is perfectly in its right to offer free security upgrades to its customers. It can continue to do so, for the Win 7 environment. For the sake of generating sales and revenue, it has instead decided to force an entire OS overhaul on the Win 7 user base. That tactic is irresponsible, and has directly led to results like this.

  • James Says:

    Given the recent hacks of cloud services, this is definitely not safe of secure.

    IMHO M.S deserves this lawsuit and more!

  • James Says:

    Couldn't disagree with this conclusion more.

    Windows 10 shows Microsoft's complete disdain for its users.

    1) There has always been the option for Automatic updates. Tho most people have had BAD experiences with this (ie GWX update malware patch) so most savvy users like to pick and choose the updates. Now M.S has started making their patch notes less truthful to compensate.

    2) Forcing users onto a new OS with breathtaking compatibility is obsurd, and microsoft should be sued for it. afterall I PAID FOR WINDOWS 7 Pro, so who is M.S to force my upgrade when I have rejected it for over a year.

    3) W10 tries to hide the options to disable telemetry, and then ignores it and sends data to their cloud anyway. Given the recent hacks of c

  • Sile Hayward Says:

    Rather than upgrade, I purchased an HP Stream; I think in January. Its a cute slim blue laptop. About two months ago it started having problems. Damn POP-UPS! You get rid of one and another one comes along. I went online to MacAfee, they said it was infected. They wanted $179 to fix it. I think not. I reported the pop-ups to MacAfee and they said no such virus. Then two weeks later the antivirus got rid of it. and now another is popping up. I bought another software hopefully to fix problems. But, no. These pop-ups have slowed down the laptop so slow, I quit using it and am back to my good old Compaq notebook. I think I will throw the Stream and wondows 10 into the ocean, or bushes. I HAATE WINDOWS 10

  • Joseph Mitzen Says:

    This is a very disconcerting article.

    >If software vendors can't issue
    >automatic upgrades without fear of a
    >lawsuit, then we're all in huge
    >trouble.

    If software vendors are allowed to take control of our computers and install software we don't want without our consent (or even despite our refusal), we're all in trouble!

    Windows 10 isn't a security patch; it's a new version of the OS, which a user may or may not. It may or may not run all of their software. Their hardware may or may not have drivers available for it, etc. It's not Microsoft's say as to what happens on your computer; it's YOURS. Mr. Piltch, I'm very disappointed that you would be siding against the consumer here. We're seeing this idea more and more that we merely rent our devices - locked bootloaders, sealed cases and unserviceable devices, BIOSes that lock out user hardware upgrades on notebooks (blacklists), now routers that prevent custom firmware. Please don't encourage this idea and say that Microsoft was in the right in forcing changes to someone's home computer despite their lack of consent.

  • Joe Bean Says:

    I find this article bad and very misleading. Windows is very different than IOS or other non mission critical product.

    Apple makes only a few different hardware, so it is easier to not break them after an OS upgrade. Plus, their OS is very simple. Still, I don't think it is good that Apple doesn't support older IOS with only security features for those who have older slower devices. That is why I do only minor work on the device and I keep the PC for real work and sensitive stuff.

    In IT support, it is a nightmare to have service packs that looks more like OS upgrades without knowing what features are added and if you should allow them or not, or wondering if your old expensive network printers will work.

    But what I feel the author misses the most is that MS is guilty of misleading people into an upgrade that has much more consequences than just patching for security. You click X which usually means "I'm not interested" and you end up with a new OS... That is why it is a good thing if they fear being sued for introducing disruptive things into otherwise functional devices that can control medical equipment or other important business devices.

    Yes, pushes security updates reasonably, but no don't bundle them with ads or new features or an new version of an OS. That is not good for business.

    And saying Windows 10 is more secure is a bit of a joke, just like when they said Vista has DEP or Windows 7 has ASLR but they are still turned off by default even in Windows 10... Edge is a good idea, but in its current state, is it safer than Chrome? Not sure. It still looks like a big work in progress. That unpolished look of the OS when it comes to settings all over the place doesn't instill trust that everything under the hood is tight and secure.

    Featuritis is what threatens security too by introducing new bugs and often augmenting the surface attack by adding new vulnerabilities for dubious benefits.

    Conservatism is a great value in business, much more than gadgets fetishism. There is nothing very compelling in Windows 10 from that perspective.

  • Adriana I Pena Says:

    Chilling effect? Not if people bother to ask if people want an upgrade before dumping one on unsuspecting computers, and before finding out if the new product is compatible with wht the computer already has.

    No matter how good your stuff is, you make sure people DO want it, and understand what they are getting.

    But if by chilling it means deterring such behavior as dumping a system that destroys your e-mail account, and then demanding that you pay them to fix the mess they created, I am all for it

  • Ivana Says:

    If Windows 10 is such a critical update, then why are Windows Enterprise/Volume Licensing customers not getting the automatic offer? (In fact, they don't qualify for the free upgrade unless they're covered by Software Assurance benefits). And Windows Embedded versions not covered either.

Back to top