BusinessWeek reports Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system will receive a kill switch, similar to those found in Google's Android operating system, Apple's iOS and Amazon's Kindle line. The feature will enable the software giant to remotely delete illicit content or edit code on your computer without your permission, and according to Microsoft it will only be used to remove or change applications downloaded to Windows 8's new app store. It's a great piece of technology in the fight against malware, but some fear it's a double-edged sword because its prone to abuse.
Microsoft declined to answer questions about the kill switch in Windows 8 other than to say it will only be able to remove or change applications downloaded through the new app store. Any software loaded from a flash drive, DVD, or directly from the Web will remain outside Microsoft’s control. Still, the kill switch is a tool that could help Microsoft prevent mass malware infections. “For most users, the ability to remotely remove apps is a good thing,” says Charlie Miller, a researcher with the security company Accuvant.
The history of kill switches on smartphones and e-readers suggests they’re double-edged swords for the companies that wield them. In 2009, Amazon reached into users’ Kindles to delete e-book copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm that had been sold by a publisher without the necessary rights. The ensuing backlash caused Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos to call the move “stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles.”