Microsoft to launch shopping wallet for consumers

Microsoft said it will launch a new service called Passport Wallet, which allows consumers to store credit card, billing and other information at a single location and use it to shop at multiple online stores.

The goal is to save users the hassle of reentering their personal data at each site where they shop, and so encourage them to do more shopping online, Margie Miller, a product manager with Microsoft's Consumer and Commerce Group, said.

The user information will be stored on servers hosted by Microsoft. When a customer wants to buy something from a participating site they click on a link to open their wallet page and select the information they want submitted. Microsoft encrypts the data and sends it to the merchant for processing.

The service builds on Microsoft's existing Passport service, which has been available since July, and allows users to access sites on the Microsoft Network, using a single login.

Although Passport Wallet will be free for consumers to use, online stores that participate will be required to pay Microsoft a flat fee.

Passport Wallet is part of a broader strategy in which Microsoft is seeking new sources of revenues by providing Internet firms with building blocks for creating services on their Web sites. The plan to offer such building blocks, or what Microsoft calls "megaservices," was outlined by company president Steve Ballmer in San Francisco last month.

Security concern

To succeed with Passport Wallet, Microsoft will need to convince users that their sensitive data will be well protected. The data will be stored on Microsoft's Hotmail servers in the US, Miller said. Those servers were recently subjected to a highly publicised attack that exposed users' e-mail.

"The recent attack had nothing to do with Passport," Miller noted.

Security has been beefed up since the Hotmail hack, and all data transferred to merchants will be securely sent using SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption technology, she said. "Users will be in control of their information and there will be no information sharing" among the online merchants that take part in the service, she added.

Passport Wallet will compete with a similar service unveiled by Novell at Internet World this week, called digitalme, as well as services from other firms that offer single-login shopping services.

"What distinguishes this is how easy it is to implement and how easily they can customise the service," Miller said.

Users can open a Passport Wallet account at http://www.passport.com.

Passport Wallet isn't limited to users and businesses in the US. The passport.com site has already been localised for French, German and Japanese, and will support 27 languages altogether by the end of the year, Miller said.

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