Cheapo Windows licenses openly sold as “pirate keys” on Amazon.ca

I’ve unintentionally referred people towards purchasing pirate license activation keys for Windows 10 through Amazon in Canada. I’d like to explain exactly how this happened.

In one of my more popular articles, I discuss the Windows 10 license in regards to RDP. In that article I recommend that people who want to use RDP upgrade from the Home edition of Windows 10 to Professional.

I then link to the Microsoft Store and include an Amazon affiliate link that leads directly to the genuine Windows 10 Professional product page on Amazon in the US. The link does use Amazon OneLink to redirect customers around the world to their local Amazon website. Where OneLink redirects to is managed entirely by Amazon, but the idea is that Amazon should link to the equivalent product page on the local Amazon website or fallback to a search result page if it isn’t certain about what the correct product is.

You may already have identified where this system breaks down. The top eight popular products in the Operating system category on Amazon.ca are pirate keys for Windows. I’m not just saying that they appear shady or that they’re potentially pirated licenses. The product pages for these Windows licenses list “pirate key” as a feature!

Example Windows 10 Pro pirate license listing on Amazon Canada

Example pirate store listing. (See larger size.)

They’re being completely transparent about the illegitimacy of the products they sell. I’ve contacted Amazon several times through multiple channels asking them to remove these listings, though they’ve not removed any of them. I’ve only received a reply from Amazon was over Twitter, but they’ve yet to act on it. In my opinion, these listings that outright admit to being pirate keys should not require much moderation deliberation on the part of Amazon.

At the time of writing, there were over a dozen different product listings for pirate keys from over 30 different sellers. If you search for Windows 10 on Amazon in Canada, the top six results are all less than 30 CAD. The expected retail price for Windows 10 Professional is just shy of around 200 CAD.

I’ve performed a quick review of Amazon websites in other regions and have not found similar listings on any of them.

Volume license keys on eBay

You may be less surprised to hear that you can find nearly identical product listings on eBay, complete with the same spelling mistakes and everything. The main difference is that eBay sellers charge a third of what they charge on Amazon and don’t outright say that their products are pirated, but instead promise that they’re selling genuine Retail or OEM edition licenses. These terms have special meaning in terms of Windows licenses, so I thought I’d check up on their claims.

In the interest of researching for this article, I bought two licenses from two eBay listings. One OEM edition and one Retail edition of Windows 10 Professional. Each one cost less than 5 USD though their expected retail prices are 140 USD and 190 USD respectively.

The license keys I received where neither the OEM nor Retail editions of Windows 10 Professional, but a Multiple Activation Keys (MAK) Volume License Keys (VLK) intended for use in enterprise deployments. MAKs have different license restrictions than OEM and Retail editions, and the listings on eBay were misrepresenting the product being sold.

I’ve not made any test purchases via Amazon Canada specifically, but I would expect the result to be the same.

Reselling Windows license keys is prohibited under the Microsoft Software License Terms for Windows Operating System, except in some parts of the European Union.