Microsoft to Unveil Privacy Tools

The recent interest in privacy issues on the Internet has led the world’s
largest computer company to develop Internet tools to control how much
information a user provides when online.

According the published reports, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
is working on a software package to allow consumers to block access to Web
sites that collect a lot of information. With the software, users can input
what types of information they are willing to share. Users will be alerted
if a site they visit does not adhere to those standards.

While many sites post privacy policies, they are often difficult to find and
understand. Microsoft’s new tools will also translate privacy information
into readable form.

The Associated Press is reporting that a formal announcement is expected
within a few weeks.

Microsoft’s decision to offer privacy tools comes soon after one company ran
into legal troubles revolving around Internet privacy.

Online advertising firm Doubleclick
got into hot water in February with its plans to merge offline information
with user activity it collects from the Web sites that use its technology.
The company became the subject of inquiries by the Federal Trade Commission, the New York State
Attorney General’s office and the Michigan State Attorney General’s office,
and has since dropped its plan.

As a result of the Doubleclick incident, industry groups began moving
urgently to establish such standards. The World
Wide Web Consortium
(W3C), a standards group, is in the process of
developing the Platform for Privacy Practices (P3P), which is designed to
“enable Web sites to express their privacy practices and enable users to
exercise preferences over those practices.” It may be finalized this summer,
to be used by Web sites as a reference for their privacy policies.

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