Microsoft’s July 29 deadline is almost here, as is the end of the Windows 10 free upgrade period, but the company’s legal woes may be just beginning. Three Florida men sued the company last Friday, alleging that its Windows 10 upgrade notifications and offers constitute unsolicited electronic advertisements as well as violating FTC law on deceptive and unfair business practices. The other suit, filed in Haifa, Israel, alleges that Microsoft installed Windows 10 on users’ computers without their consent.
Microsoft has denied any wrongdoing and writes: “[W]e believe the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit and we are confident we’ll be successful in court.” Microsoft also claims that upgrading to Windows 10 is a choice, not a requirement — though they’ve frankly blurred the line between those two states extensively over the past 12 months. Last month, a woman won a $10,000 judgment against the company in small claims court.
The problem with Microsoft’s claims that its upgrade to Microsoft 10 was an “offer” is that an offer is something you typically choose whether or not to accept. Microsoft has been offering Windows 10 repeatedly and aggressively for months. Unless you installed third-party applications and took action to specifically change your update policies, Windows 10 automatically downloaded itself on to your system and pushed users to take advantage of it at every opportunity. Last spring, Microsoft changed the company’s upgrade notification so that the behavior that used to dismiss the upgrade prompt instead no longer functioned. Based on what we heard from readers, at least some people were inadvertently upgraded to Windows 10 at this point, despite having repeatedly refused the upgrade for the past nine months. Microsoft hasn’t been able to help itself, and pushed a number of last-ditch “upgrades” designed to ramp up the annoying factor and once again force people to choose to decline the offer.
We don’t pretend to know how the courts will consider this question, but there seems an important distinction to be made. Microsoft did not simply “offer” Windows 10. It transformed its Windows 10 upgrade into a mallet that consumers had to keep dodging over and over again. It integrated further prompts and warnings into its web browsers and only rolled back the nagware change when the Internet, fed up with 10 months of escalation, began calling it malware.
Millions of people undoubtedly chose to upgrade to Windows 10 and have enjoyed their experience with the operating system, but Microsoft didn’t play this anything like fair. It repeatedly made changes to its own applications that increased their annoyance factors and attempted to end-run around stated users’ previously stated preferences in a 12-month war that’s remarkable for its sheer hubris. It takes a truly exceptional company to turn a free giveaway of a $120 product into a disaster — but Microsoft has well and truly risen to the occasion.