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Briton to sue Microsoft over privacy

Privacy group protects UK citizen's identity

According to the head of a web privacy pressure group, a UK resident is set to file a complaint with the FTC (US Federal Trade Commission) against Microsoft, charging that its Hailstorm technology for developing web services infringes the Safe Harbor program designed to protect European users' privacy.

The Briton plans to file the complaint with the FTC "very soon", said Marc Rotenberg, president of the public advocacy group Epic (Electronic Privacy Information Center) yesterday. He declined to name the resident or discuss details of the complaint at this time, but said Epic will issue a statement when the complaint is filed.

A Microsoft spokesman dismissed any pending complaints against Hailstorm, noting that the technology is still largely under development. "[The complaint] is impressive since Hailstorm does not exist," quipped Rick Miller, a Microsoft spokesman. He added that Microsoft was not aware of any plans to file the complaint.

Safe Harbor offers legal protection for US companies that, through their European operations, gather personally identifiable information about users in Europe. The program went into effect late last year and is intended to meet a 1998 European Union directive on data protection, which is more stringent than current US privacy law. Microsoft is one of about 90 US companies and organisations that have signed on to the program.

The complaint would be only the latest attack against Microsoft over privacy concerns. Privacy groups including Epic and the Center for Media Education filed a complaint last month with the FTC about Microsoft's Passport authentication service over concerns about how the service can gather data about users. The groups amended the complaint on Wednesday by adding new concerns over such issues as children's privacy. Rotenberg alluded to the UK resident's complaint during a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the amended filing.

Passport is the first of several Hailstorm services Microsoft has said it plans to introduce over the next few years. They are part of its broader .Net internet initiative, which includes software and services that provide a foundation for creating more elaborate web-based services. Other Hailstorm components are expected to include calendering, storage and notification services, Microsoft has said.

Microsoft offered a concession to its Passport critics last week, saying it would reduce the amount of information that users must provide when they sign up for the service. It is also promoting support for an emerging standard called Platform for Privacy Preferences, or P3P, which is intended to help users determine the privacy policy of sites they visit on the web.


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