Customer wins $10K judgment from Microsoft over unauthorized Windows 10 upgrade

Took company to small claims court after upgrade crippled her PC, hurt her business

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Microsoft last month paid a California travel agent $10,000 after she won a judgment in small claims court by successfully arguing that an unauthorized upgrade to Windows 10 crippled her work PC.

Teri Goldstein, the owner of Sausalito, Calif.-based TG Travel Group LLC, said that she had not approved the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. After the upgrade repeatedly failed, the machine was almost unusable, frequently crashing and forcing her to restore files, not recognizing her external hard drive, and demanding that she use multi-step workarounds simply to log on each day. "It just limped along," Goldstein said in an interview.

The Seattle Times first reported on Microsoft giving up its appeal and paying Goldstein the $10,000 judgment.

Goldstein relied on her computer to run her business.

"For months I tried to work with them, but they kept blowing me off," said Goldstein, of the problems that began in August 2015. She said she made countless calls to Microsoft's technical support, visited a local Microsoft retail store, and spent hours scouring support forums, all to no avail.

Meanwhile, her business was taking a pounding. "September to December is my busiest season," Goldstein said, adding that she could not shut down her company the week or more it would take to buy a new PC and have her IT consultant set it up, provision it with the software she needed, and transfer her files. At the same time, she fielded calls from clients asking why she hadn't answered their emails, which were inaccessible because of the crippled computer. Some of those customers canceled their bookings.

In early October, she bought a new laptop because her Windows desktop was still unreliable, then tried to do business using both. In late December, the first time business slowed enough to allow it, she bought a new desktop PC to replace the crippled computer.

During the months-long span, Goldstein said she suffered $17,000 in lost business and additional expenses because of the failed upgrade to Windows 10, basing her estimate on past-years' revenue during the period and the cost of the new computers.

Microsoft's support technicians were never able to restore her PC to its former operational state, and Goldstein's account of dealings with the Redmond, Wash. company's customer service department was Kafka-esque.

According to the notes Goldstein had kept on her dilemma, which she shared with Computerworld, one customer service representative -- whose name, email and phone number she had been given by a Microsoft retail store in San Francisco -- was "continually rude, unwilling to assist me," and eventually told her "Do not ever contact me again."

By mid-January, Goldstein had had enough. "That was when they offered me $150 to go away," she said today. "I used that as proof of guilt. They knew what was happening."

From there, Goldstein went to Marin County's small claims court, filing a claim for the maximum of $10,000.

In March, her claim was heard. Goldstein came prepared with documentation, including years of her firm's revenue to show the losses caused by the lack of a working PC. Microsoft, on the other hand, sent someone from the local retail store, not an attorney.

"This very honest kid came in, and said they had pulled him out of the store at 4:30 to go to court," said Goldstein. "They didn't even prepare for it."

Basing her claim on a section in the California Uniform Commercial Code, and arguing that the forced upgrade was non-consensual and resulted in lost wages, Goldstein was awarded the $10,000 judgment. Microsoft originally said it would appeal, but then ditched the idea and paid her the $10,000 last month.

"The company dropped its appeal to avoid the expense of further litigation," a Microsoft spokesman said in an email reply to questions today.

Goldstein's story likely resonates with many of the Windows users who, over the last 11 months, have objected to a variety of Microsoft tactics designed to convince, cajole or even trick customers running Windows 7 and 8.1 into upgrading to Windows 10.

Microsoft's upgrade strategy, which began months before the July 29, 2015, launch of the new operating system, became increasingly aggressive. After first asking customers to "reserve" a copy of the upgrade, it moved on to downloading the upgrade bits in the background to those users' machines. In October 2015, Microsoft announced it would automatically push the Windows 10 upgrade to all eligible PCs, then initiate the upgrade process. That practice began in February.

More recently, the firm started pre-scheduling the upgrade, a change that dramatically increased the number of complaints, and triggered a petition asking the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to investigate the unprecedented gambit.

Users were especially irate about a change Microsoft made in March when it began to interpret a click on the red "X" in the upper right of an impending upgrade notice as approving the upgrade, contradicting decades of user experience (UX), as well as Microsoft's own design rules. Customers called it a trick to get them to approve the upgrade to Windows 10 when they intended to reject it.

Goldstein had advice for others in similar straits.

"Corporations need to be held accountable," she said. "My business was destroyed by a company pushing its products. You have to take the bull by the horns because as long as Microsoft can get away with this, they will."

Goldstein encouraged others who have suffered loss of money or time because of Microsoft's Windows 10 upgrade strategy to contact her. "My position is that anyone who wants to talk to me about their rights, should call me. Or email me."

Goldstein's phone number and email address can be found on one of her websites, Travels with Teri.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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