Windows XP 
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland - Aug 8, 2001

According to a recent poll, “loss of personal privacy” is the foremost concern of Americans as we enter the twenty-first century. With technologies like Internet “cookies”- mini-programs planted on a computer’s hard drive that can track a Web surfer’s travels, cyberspace has become the primary front in the privacy war. Now a new horde of Huns is at the gates - Microsoft’s Passport identification service, a feature of the software giant’s forthcoming Windows XP operating system that allows the surfer to visit the member areas of Microsoft-owned sites such as Hotmail, the MSN Network, and without having to enter user a user name and password every time.

The catch, say critics, is that because these sites are among the 10 most visited on the Web, this will lead to the largest invasion of online privacy ever seen.

In a lawsuit accusing Microsoft with unfair and deceptive trade practices now before the Federal Trade Commission, more than a dozen privacy groups led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, (or EPIC, at have charged that the Passport service is designed to compile a colossal database of users’ personal information. Microsoft, they contend, will be able to use the data entered during the Windows XP installation process to track and profile Web surfers, and then do with the information as it pleases-including selling it to the highest bidder. Before you’re tempted to upgrade to XP when it comes out the end of September, you should know what these watchdog groups are saying about it, and how Microsoft is dealing with the flak.

With 165 million people already registered, the Passport service is the largest online repository of personal information (to put this figure in perspective, consider that there are now an estimated 300 million computers on the Internet). Even though Passport is an optional feature of XP, the suit accuses Microsoft of not making that clear to the user at the time of installation. Instead, users are led to believe that signing up for Passport is simply part of the process.

When privacy groups first filed the lawsuit asking to delay XP’s release, Passport was designed to ask for 13 items of personal information, including users’ “real name,” email address, street address, home phone number, credit card information, gender, age, and occupation. Photos of users were also welcomed.

And in a glaring example of Micosoft’s greed, a posting on quoted one of Passport’s original terms of use as stipulating that “by inputting data ... or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Passport Web Site" – or any of its "associated services" -- users would grant Microsoft the right to "use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication" and “exploit any proprietary rights in such communication, including but not limited to rights under copyright, trademark, service mark or patent laws.” In other words, if you installed XP, got suckered into signing up for Passport and then used Hotmail to email your latest short story to your literary agent or a new schematic diagram to your patent lawyer, Bill Gates would devour the rights to your work like a blood-crazed shark.

After privacy groups made headlines in July by filing suit, an embarrassed Microsoft tried to backpedal. The company announced Passport would only require users’ email addresses, but that their affiliates would still be free to ask for all the other information. The clause granting Microsoft the rights to users’ intellectual property was “an oversight,” according to a company spokesman and dropped. Microsoft also disavowed any intention to make commercial use of its trove of user information.

Unimpressed by the company’s response, the privacy groups announced on August 15th that they would file an expanded lawsuit maintaining that Passport’s requirement of users’ email addresses was still unacceptable - more spam in users’ inboxes would still be the inevitable result. The second suit also asks the FTC to order Microsoft to alter the XP registration process to allow users to opt out of the Passport system more easily, and permit them to surf the Web anonymously.

And according to Jason Catlett of Junkbusters (, one the complaining parties, Passport’s requirements also violate a 2000 law protecting the online privacy of children. Tonya Klause, a Microsoft spokeswoman, attempted to rebut the charge by saying that all Passport-affiliated Web sites require parental consent before children can provide information to those sites. But how easily a child could pose as his own parent and give himself permission to disclose personal information remains unanswered here.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department, still in antitrust litigation with Microsoft, has yet to issue an injunction against the release of XP. On August 17th, a federal appellate court turned down the company's request to delay further proceedings in the four-year case pending Microsoft’s request for a Supreme Court review, which some experts think may increase the likelihood of such an injunction.

A possible indication of what Justice’s position on XP might be, though, lies in Attorney General John Ashcroft’s current budget for the agency, which in spite of it’s stated willingness to pursue the Microsoft anti-trust suit, allots no funding whatsoever to it. However, according to CNN, a number of state attorneys general are currently weighing legal challenges to XP, and the Senate Judiciary Committee also plans to hold hearings on the new operating system.

The only response from the FTC so far has been a letter to EPIC saying, ``We will evaluate your complaint to determine what action, if any would be appropriate in this case. Please be advised that any Commission investigation is non-public until the Commission decides to issue a formal complaint. As a result, we will not be able to advise EPIC or the other complainants of our decision as to whether to investigate the matter.''

With an overwhelmingly pro-business Bush administration possibly ready to look the other way on this assault on online privacy, and help from other quarters uncertain, all that remains to be said is this: surfer, beware – you don’t want Microsoft to know you in the Biblical sense.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2001 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.


Home  |  Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Books  |  Harmonica Books  |  Music Lessons  | CDs
 Harmonica Main  |  Celtic Main  |  Blues Main  |  Fingerstyle Main  |  Woodstock 69  |  Reviews 
Free Celtic Guitar Arrangements  |  Free Celtic Harmonica Arrangements  |  Online Celtic Tunebook

Writings  | MySpace Page  |  Discographies  |  To Order Books  |  Contact  |  Links  | Translate