Microsoft Announces Steps to Increase E-Commerce Security

As the epic antitrust trial drew to a close, Microsoft was taking care of other business as usual, which included announcing a series of steps aimed to strengthen security for e-commerce and other online activities.

Speaking at PC Expo in New York, Microsoft Executive Vice President and CEO Bob Herbold discussed initiatives to assist both his company and the e-commerce industry to appropriately prioritize online consumer privacy. The initiatives include the availability of Microsoft’s Privacy Wizard and Passport, online advertisers requiring privacy policies, the extension of policy and the encouragement of privacy standards.

“Inadequate privacy protection is a top barrier to the continued growth of e-commerce, and our goal is to provide the leadership, expertise and technologies to help move the industry forward on this front,” commented Herbold. “We have a long way to go both as a company and as an industry to ensure that consumers who use the Internet feel their personal information is used in the way they want it used.”

Privacy Wizard

Co-developed with the TRUSTe privacy seal program, the Privacy Wizard helps to encourage expeditious proliferation of comprehensive privacy statements. Microsoft hopes to assist small businesses that create or manage Web sites, and 2,000 of such operations, according to the company, have already utilized the wizard to create privacy policies.

“One of the keys to accelerating online privacy is making it easy for every Web site, small or large, to adopt trusted privacy practices,” stated Bob Lewin, Executive Director of TRUSTe, a non-profit group. “It is critical that small-business owners and individuals have access to tools like the Privacy Wizard from the outset so they can build their business models with privacy standards in mind.”

Among the other initiatives announced by Herbold involved Microsoft’s decision to exclusively advertise with Web sites that have clearly articulated and comprehensive privacy policies in place by 2000.

Microsoft is also developing its Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) through participation in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Initiated in 1997, the intention behind P3P is “to meet the data privacy expectations of consumers while assuring that the Internet remains available and productive for commerce.”

Microsoft: On the Defensive?

The online security initiatives announced by Microsoft come right on the heels of a major controversy involving the integrity of one of its server products. Earlier this month, independent online security firm eEye discovered a hole in Microsoft’s Internet Information Server 4.0, “the most commonly used web server on the Internet.”

The Redmond, Washington-based software giant first posted a “workaround” a week after eEye notified them, then made a patch available on its Security Advisor Web page. One security expert interviewed for this story, who preferred to remain anonymous, characterized Microsoft’s privacy initiatives as “basically damage control.”

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