Privacy groups want FTC action on Passport

Privacy advocates are demanding that Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Timothy Muris stop Microsoft Corp. from "unfairly and deceptively" obtaining customer information through its Passport services and Windows XP operating system, which is due to be launched Thursday.

In a letter to Muris dated today and sent to congressional oversight committee members, several privacy groups urged the FTC to force Microsoft to "disgorge any personal information collected fraudulently and deceptively through XP and Passport."

Microsoft, through a spokeswoman, said today's letter and press conference are nothing more than a rehashing of old complaints to coincide with the release of Windows XP. "Microsoft has thoroughly addressed these claims," said Tonya Klause.

In their initial complaint (download PDF), the groups said they're concerned that the software manufacturer's Passport authentication service violates the FTC's unfair and deceptive practices statute because it has the potential to track and monitor Internet users, presenting serious privacy concerns.

In a press conference today in Washington, Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp. in Green Brook, N.J., said the FTC had failed to protect consumers by not taking public action against Microsoft. "Microsoft should be stopped from stating or implying that having a Passport issued by Microsoft is necessary to obtain access to the Internet. Microsoft is not lord of the Internet.

"The Federal Trade Commission has a statutory obligation to safeguard the interests of consumers in the online marketplace. This case is a test of the FTC's ability to act in the public interest," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, one of the groups to sign the letter.

Microsoft has denied that it uses deceptive practices and continued to accuse EPIC and the other groups of playing to the media rather than working with Microsoft to resolve the problems. Klause said Microsoft has offered to meet with EPIC to discuss its concerns.

Other groups that signed the complaint were Consumers Union, Consumer Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Junkbusters, the Media Access Project NetAction and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Microsoft's responses to the complaint in July "were nonresponsive to illegal and intrusive behavior they had documented, such as implying that consumers must obtain a Passport from Microsoft before they can use the Internet," the privacy groups said.

They also listed several security failures by Microsoft, indicating that the software maker can't keep consumers' personal information secure.

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