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Current versions of Microsoft Windows will automatically update themselves.

That's usually great, but they also are designed to update themselves even if the owner of the device wants them to not do that. I could send them a certified letter revoking their authorization to install and run new software on my computer, and turn off all available update settings, and if I don't go turn the computer off it will still get updated when a new update comes out.

Why, legally, can Microsoft (or any other device manufacturer or application developer) control my computer in excess of what I have authorized, but when I do it to their computer, that is "hacking" and I go to "jail"?

Is Microsoft breaking any laws by forcing upgrades to windows 10? asks about Microsoft's Windows 10 rollout specifically, but I am more broadly asking about the standard Windows updates, and about updates or other remote control functions for other devices that do not have a technical mechanism allowing the owner to disable them.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Jul 5, 2023 at 19:19

2 Answers 2

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You ask:

Why, legally, can Microsoft (or any other device manufacturer or application developer) control my computer in excess of what I have authorized... ?

It cannot.

The Windows licence says:

By accepting this agreement or using the software, you agree to all of these terms

Even if your letter revoking authorization were effective, as soon as you use the Windows software again, you are again deemed to have agreed to all of the terms of the licence.

One of the terms is:

The software periodically checks for system and app updates, and downloads and installs them for you. You may obtain updates only from Microsoft or authorized sources, and Microsoft may need to update your system to provide you with those updates. By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive these types of automatic updates without any additional notice.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Jul 5, 2023 at 2:10
  • So because in this specific case Microsoft has written authorization for them into the EULA, they have my permission to control my computer as long as I have their permission to run their software. If I pirate Windows and use it without a license, and accept the legal consequences of same, do they then not have permission to control my computer? If I buy a random IoT Thing that didn't come with a license written as carefully as Microsoft's, will the cops care if I call them when my Thing updates without permission?
    – interfect
    Jul 11, 2023 at 19:25
13

You own the computer but do not own Windows. Microsoft owns Windows and it is not for sale to anybody, so you never purchased it. What you have purchased is a permission to use it (a license) subject to terms and conditions. If you do not agree to them you have no right use Windows.

You can use your computer without using Windows by using some other operating system, but in that case you would have to

  1. get a different operating system that works with your hardware and
  2. abide by the terms of use of those that wrote it.

Specific software that you want to use might only have been developed for Windows, meaning you'd have to find an alternative to those as well.

Aside 1: While there are concrete alternative options for actual computers (notably Linux, whose authors chose not to ask to abide by any terms and conditions for its use) the same is not true for other devices such as cellphones or smart TVs where there often is no choice other than the operating system/firmware that was preinstalled.

Aside 2: A few years ago you could even get a refund on the cost of the Windows license if you clicked on "disagree" when you first powered up the computer. I don't know if that is feasible anymore but now it is easier to get a computer that does not have Windows installed by the manufacturer in the first place.

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  • 1
    For your point 2 "abide by the terms of use of those that wrote it", for any other realistic option other than Windows, there are not really terms of use. There is Linux (GPL) but the terms are all about what you agree to do when redistributing the software and preparing derivative works; in fact the GPL has a specific term which says that you may "run" the program even if you don't accept the GPL (which seems odd because if you don't accept the GPL, you don't accept that permission, either). Of course, to copy or make derivative works, you need to accept the license.
    – Brandin
    Jul 4, 2023 at 13:29
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    @Brandin I addresssed that in an edit. We're on Law SE so the question is about who has a right to do what. The fact that Linux does not have an EULA is a choice made by its authors who did have every right to choose differently.
    – Rad80
    Jul 4, 2023 at 14:16
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    @AdrianMcCarthy You 'Buy a license to use Office' and afterwards you do own the license. Yes this is lawyer speak and advertising this as 'Buy Office' is totally misleading but this is currently deemed legal.
    – quarague
    Jul 5, 2023 at 13:05

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