eBay drops Microsoft's Passport

Online auctioneer eBay Inc. will stop supporting Microsoft Corp.'s .Net Passport identification system by the end of January.

EBay users who currently use Passport will have to log in to the service directly through eBay, the company said in a statement on its Web site posted late last month. Users who currently receive eBay updates called eBay Notifications through Microsoft's .Net alerts service have to switch to eBay messaging methods, it said.

EBay's withdrawal does not come as a big surprise. Microsoft is recasting its ambitions for the sign-in service, which was once a key part of its hosted services strategy. Passport will be limited to Microsoft's own online offerings and those of close partners and is no longer positioned as a sign-on system for the Web at large, Microsoft said in October.

The repositioning of Passport in October came as careers Web site Monster.com said it was dropping support of the authentication service. At the time, eBay said it would continue to support the technology, although not many eBay users entered the site using Passport, a spokesman said.

TMP Worldwide Inc.'s Monster and eBay were two of Microsoft's banner Passport users and two of only a handful of big-name companies Microsoft was able to sell on Passport.

In 1999, the Redmond, Washington, company envisioned thousands of online stores and other services using Passport, allowing users to sign on using the same user name and password combination used for Microsoft services.

The market largely rejected Passport as the system's security was tested by hackers and scrutinized by privacy watchers who did not like the idea of Microsoft controlling user information. Regulators in the U.S. and Europe eventually put restrictions on Microsoft and Passport. Also, Internet users, it turned out, don't decide where they shop because of the log-in service that is supported by a particular online store.

Passport faced competition from the Liberty Alliance, which was formed in late 2001 and set out to create an open authentication platform as opposed to Microsoft's proprietary Passport technology. The Liberty Alliance, originally sponsored by Sun Microsystems Inc. and about 30 other companies, has continued to expand and specifications developed by the group are supported in several products.

Microsoft has been quiet about Passport in the past few years and has not done any significant development work on the system. Instead, the company has been quietly scaling back several of Passport's components. A directory of sites that support the service was removed this year, and in March 2003, a payments feature was axed.

Adjusting it ambitions for Passport lets Microsoft focus on software, which is what it should focus on, analysts have said.

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Joris Evers

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