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Microsoft Launches Passport E-Wallet Service

Aiming to capture the estimated 28 percent of e-shoppers who abandon shopping carts before checkout, Microsoft Corp. Monday unveiled Passport, its version of the electronic wallet, which enables online consumers to store encrypted billing and shipping information at Passport-enabled merchant sites.

According to Microsoft (MSFT), a contributing factor in uncompleted interactive purchases is the repetitive and cumbersome process of typing account information across several different merchant sites.

Initially more than 50 e-tailers have signed up for the Passport service, including heavy hitters such as barnesandnoble.com (BNBN), CDNOW.com (CDNW) and Dell Computer Corp. (DELL).

First introduced on Microsoft sites, such as MSN.com, Monday's launch is geared to both consumers and merchants online. Consumers can sign up for Passport for free. The company said there are currently more than 40 million consumers now using the Passport service.

For new participating merchants, Microsoft will waive fees through March, 2000. Afterwards, e-tailers will be charged an undetermined annual service fee. While the wallet service is available now, the single sign-in and profile service or authentication will not be available until early 2000.

Companies are required to complete a free registration process before downloading Passport documentation. More merchant information is available here.

In addition, Microsoft is requiring merchants to follow strict privacy policies and local privacy laws by posting privacy statements on their sites and for U.S.-based e-tailers Microsoft is "strongly encouraging" that they register with privacy-assurance organizations such as TRUSTe and BBBOnLine.

Merchants can incorporate a link to their purchase pages which point to the Passport wallet Web server, where the customer selects information such as credit card number and shipping address, which is then returned to the merchant. The merchant can then retrieve the wallet profile information from HTML form fields, which is posted as a form over a secure connection. Merchants then use ASP/CGI to retrieve the information posted to their site from the wallet server. The form field names in the post are also compliant with the ECML or Electronic Commerce Modeling Language standard.

Microsoft said the benefits Passport provide include:

  • Increased customer acquisition and retention
  • Easy implementation
  • Extensive customization
  • Increased consumer trust
The Passport service is Microsoft's first "megaservice" designed for businesses. Microsoft defines megaservices as its new breed of service that extends the Web capabilities by directly linking applications, services and devices with one another over the Internet.