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Microsoft teams with EFF to push Web privacy

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An improbable double act - Microsoft and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is to announce tools to promote and protect Web privacy later today. Typically one would expect any privacy tools Microsoft would announce to be geared towards promoting Microsoft platforms, but the support of the EFF suggests that maybe this time Redmond really is intending to put its weight behind an industry-wide effort. The intent is to accelerate the take-up of the platform for privacy preferences, P3P. This will provide a standard mechanism for Web sites to present their privacy policies, showing what information they propose to gather about visitors and what they intend to do with it. This standard format is then readily readable by users' browsers (when the technology is in the browsers, that is), so when you go to a Web site your browser will automatically check out its privacy policies, check them against the ones you've set for yourself, and report back to you accordingly. The Microsoft tools are intended to allow companies to write their privacy policies, so yes, they will be at least Microsoft-weighted if not Microsoft-specific, and other companies are going to have to deal with non-Windows Web platforms. The EFF's unusual backing of Microsoft here may have been prompted by the threat of privacy legislation. Governments everywhere are getting more and more annoyed by the software industry's apparent inability to do anything about privacy protection, or even to restrain itself (hello Microsoft) from breaching personal privacy. Getting P3P going faster may therefore seem like a smart way to head-off government intervention. But it's doubtful if adequate privacy standards can be delivered fast enough for this. P3P itself has a problem in that a Seattle company, Intermind, holds a key patent for it and wants money. And even if this is overcome, getting all of the software accepted as a worldwide standard and deployed will be a major challenge. ®

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