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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Privacy groups file Microsoft complaint
Windows XP
Privacy groups want to block the release of Windows XP
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

A coalition of more than a dozen consumer-privacy groups is asking the Federal Trade Commission in the United States to block the release of Microsoft's new version of its flagship operating system, Windows XP.

The coalition, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters.com, claim that Microsoft "is engaging in unfair and deceptive trading practices".

The groups say that Microsoft intends "to profile, track, and monitor millions of internet users" through the use of its suite of Internet services that the company refers to as .Net, which is to be integrated in Windows XP.

The complaint is only the latest pressure that the software giant is facing to make changes to Windows XP to address privacy and competition concerns of consumer groups, members of Congress and the attorneys-general that have battled with the company in court for years.

Passport problems

One area of concern for the groups is Microsoft's Passport authentication system.

Passport allows a user to log in once and then access any site that uses the technology. Passport is meant to prevent users from having to repeatedly enter their user name and password.

The groups claim that 100 million people have registered for the Passport service and that it represents that the world's largest commercial database of internet users.

They say that due to Microsoft's market reach, Windows XP will drive more users to adopt the technology, which they say could put personal information at risk.

Hailstorm of controversy

The groups also complained about other features of Microsoft's .Net strategy such as its electronic wallet and its Hailstorm services.

Hailstorm aims to allow users to update their personal information, including address and credit card numbers, once, and then transfer or update that information at their discretion to all websites and devices that use that information.

Microsoft wants people's information to be portable not only on the web but also to the myriad of devices that incorporate internet technology, such as handheld organisers or mobile phones.

Microsoft says that the technology turns the privacy debate on its head.

"Hailstorm starts with the assumption that the user controls all personal information and gets to decide with whom to share any of it and under what terms," the company says.

But privacy advocates counter in their complaint that "considering the extraordinary market dominance enjoyed by Microsoft, the collection and use of personal information within the Microsoft network under Windows XP and with the associated .Net services constitutes a series of unfair and deceptive trade practices".

Building pressure

Microsoft plans to ship Windows XP on 25 October.

Steve Ballmer
A US senator plans to ask tough questions of Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at hearings this autumn

The complaint from privacy groups is just the latest possible obstacle Microsoft faces in the release of the new version of Windows.

The attorneys-general leading the states' anti-trust suit against Microsoft have said that they are considering whether to file a new anti-trust case against the company based on the Windows XP. Microsoft plans to integrate many features into the operating system that previously were separate pieces of software, including instant messaging and multimedia software.

Microsoft's integration of its Internet Explorer web browser with Windows 98 led to the present anti-trust case.

Call for delay of XP launch

And on Tuesday, Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, called on Microsoft to delay the release of Windows XP until the company created a more level playing field for other software companies.

Mr Schumer sits on the Senate Judiciary committee, and committee chair Patrick Leahy - a Vermont Democrat - said that the panel would hold hearings in the autumn that would look at promoting competition in the computer and internet industry.

The hearings will look at whether Microsoft competes unfairly and harms consumers.

At those hearings, Mr Schumer said that he plans to ask Microsoft president Steve Ballmer why the company will not allow consumers to "choose the best application, rather than letting Microsoft choose Microsoft applications for them".

If Microsoft will not delay the release of Windows XP, the New York senator said he wants some of the states involved in the anti-trust case to seek a court injunction to block its release.

But Microsoft argues that the release of the new version of Windows is critical not only to the company but to a personal computer industry seeing one of the worst downturns in its history.

In a letter to Mr Schumer, associate general counsel Jack Krumholtz wrote, "The timely launch of Windows XP is critical to re-ignite the PC industry in the United States."

See also:

29 Jun 01 | Business
Microsoft break-up ruling overturned
19 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Microsoft 'experiments' with XP
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