Being “gaslighted” by Windows 7

Joe Williams on February 11, 2010.

On February 11th, Microsoft General Manager Joe Williams, discussed the upcoming Windows Activation Technologies Update for Windows 7.  While this is considered an “important update,” he went on to “…stress that the Update is voluntary.

Okay, so just what did Joe mean by important update, but voluntary?  I found out this morning.

New updates are available.

Unlike most users, I have the settings on Windows Update set to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them.”  This means that when updates are available, I will be notified of that fact; but Windows will not take any action to download or install the updates, without my permission.

So far, so good.  I received the usual notification this morning, that “New updates are available.”

Number of available updates.

In my particular case, I had 5 pending “important updates” and 2 pending “optional updates.”  The optional updates I’ve known about for some time and had previously decided never to install them.  The 5 important updates were released this past Tuesday.  Because one of them is the previously described “voluntary” update, only 4 of the 5 had been automatically selected for download and installation, by Windows Update.

Here is where the gaslighting aspect of this comes into play.  Users who are cautious enough to have Windows Update set for notification only, will most likely click on the “5 important updates are available” link, in order to see what the updates are.  However, before doing so, most may not notice that only 4 of the 5 updates had been automatically selected.

Semi-detailed listing of "important updates."

When you click on the “important updates” link, you are shown a semi-detailed list of the available updates.  The list is shown in alphabetical order, according to the name of each update.  Additionally, the first item on the list is automatically highlighted.  Depending upon your particular configuration the “voluntary update” will always appear at, or near, the top of the list.  And if it is the first item on the list, it will appear highlighted.

A deception waiting to happen...

Since the update is “voluntary,” the checkbox for that update will not be checked.  This creates a situation in which an unsuspecting user may believe they made “one too many clicks,” and that they accidentally unchecked an “important update.”  What makes this even more likely to occur is the generic name “Update for Windows 7 (KB971033).”

The fine print behind Update for Windows 7 (KB971033).

Unless a person remembers to always read the descriptive detail of each and every update on the list, there is a medium to high risk that a user may accidentally, now or at a later time, install the so-called “voluntary” update.  On that note, I suggest that Microsoft seriously consider adding the word “Voluntary” to the name of “Update for Windows 7 (KB971033).”

Doing so would clearly identify the update as “important but voluntary.”  And it would lessen the risk of accidental installation, by users who clearly do not want things installed without their knowledge or consent.  Not doing so would perpetuate the belief that Microsoft is always trying to sneak unwanted features onto users computers.

UPDATE: Waging Information Warfare over KB971033

Spread the word!