Microsoft aspires to be private first class

Faced with continuing dissent over its Passport authentication system, Microsoft has stepped up efforts to reinvent itself as a crusader for consumer privacy.

Microsoft Passport, a system that facilitates online transactions by storing user information and passwords, has been under attack from several privacy groups and Microsoft opponents, who claim Passport allows Microsoft to collect, store and sell customer information.

Microsoft has denied the allegations, claiming the sole purpose of Passport is to provide convenience to users.

"We are the biggest software company in the world and the trust based on security and privacy of users is our main concern," said Richard Purcell, Microsoft's director of corporate privacy.

Rejecting claims that it is a deceptive practice to promote Passport as private and secure because of its alleged security flaws, Purcell, in town to present Microsoft's privacy agenda, said the accusations by privacy bodies were unfounded.

"For years, they wanted someone to take up their cause, and now that we've taken it on, they're saying, ‘Oh gosh, not you!'."

Purcell said that at a time when technology and social interest are intersecting more than ever, Microsoft is determined to act as a responsible corporate citizen that will protect the right of every individual to control their personal information.

The initiative comes in the wake of the "Trustworthy Computing" memo that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates sent to all Microsoft employees in January, asking them to spend a month plugging potential security holes in Microsoft software.

The operation will see Microsoft developers spend a month looking for security vulnerabilities in any Microsoft software running in a 32-bit environment.

Describing the 7000-developer initiative as a "huge effort", Purcell said the next challenge would be to balance security and privacy with software usability.

"Our developers have been told to spend eight hours a day for 30 days looking for vulnerabilities and to go for security over features," Purcell said. "The idea is to develop the Trustworthy Computing environment in any situation and Microsoft wants to provide the tools and technologies to help achieve that."

Purcell admitted that operation Trustworthy Computing will delay some of Microsoft's product shipments scheduled for this year.

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