Microsoft to delete software that scares users into buying upgrades

Starting March 1, Windows Defender and other Microsoft security products will detect and remove "unwanted" programs that use coercive messages to scare users into buying premium versions of free programs.

Microsoft to delete software that scares users into buying upgrades
Brad Chacos/IDG

While some users may not like Microsoft automatically deleting software from their computers, Microsoft is gunning for scareware-like free programs that coerce users into buying premium versions of the software that purportedly fixes the issues discovered by the freebie version.

You may not have downloaded that type of software, the kind that scans before claiming to have found hundreds of critical issues, ranging from software to performance problems, but you may have gotten calls from not-so-technically-inclined relatives or friends regarding the “found” problems. Alarmed Windows users who don’t have someone to consult may believe the only way to fix the issues is to buy the upgraded version of the free software.

Microsoft has finally had enough: “There has been an increase in free versions of programs that purport to scan computers for various errors, and then use alarming, coercive messages to scare customers into buying a premium version of the same program.”

Barak Shein of Windows Defender Security Research said Microsoft finds the practice “problematic because it can pressure customers into making unnecessary purchase decisions.”

Starting March 1, those types of programs — often called some type of cleaner or optimizer — that “display coercive messaging will be classified as unwanted software, detected, and removed.”

Behavior that will get software deleted

As for unwanted coercive messaging behavior, Shein noted:

Programs must not display alarming or coercive messages or misleading content to pressure you into paying for additional services or performing superfluous actions.

Software that coerces users may display the following characteristics, among others:

  • Reports errors in an exaggerated or alarming manner about the user’s system and requires the user to pay for fixing the errors or issues monetarily or by performing other actions such as taking a survey, downloading a file, signing up for a newsletter, etc.
  • Suggests that no other actions will correct the reported errors or issues
  • Requires the user to act within a limited period of time to get the purported issue resolved

Microsoft warned, “Windows Defender Antivirus and other Microsoft security products will classify programs that display coercive messages as unwanted software, which will be detected and removed.”

So, what else classifies as “unwanted” software on Windows? According to Microsoft’s updated evaluation criteria, the software will be judged on its unwanted behavior such a lack of choice, lack of control, installation and removal, computer performance as well as coercive messaging.

But that’s not all. The new evaluation criteria will use the following categories:

Unwanted behavior: The software runs unwanted processes or programs on your PC, does not display adequate disclosures about its behavior or obtain adequate consent, prevents you from controlling its actions while it runs on your computer, prevents you from uninstalling or removing the program, prevents you from viewing or modifying browser features or settings, makes misleading or inaccurate claims about the state of your PC, or circumvents user consent dialogs from the browser or operating system.

Advertising: The software delivers out-of-context advertising that interferes with the quality of your computing experience, regardless of whether you consented to this behavior or not.

Advertisements: The advertisement should not mislead you into visiting another site or downloading files.

Privacy: The software collects, uses, or communicates your information without your explicit consent.

Consumer opinion: Microsoft considers input from individual users as a key factor in helping to identify new unwanted behaviors and programs that might interfere with the quality of your computing experience.

The evaluation criteria also covers malicious software and the classifications of what consists of malware.

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