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Microsoft alters Passport Terms to stem Hotmail defections

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Microsoft is to amend its Passport Terms of Use within the next day, a spokesman told The Register today. Corporate spokesman Tom Pilla said:-

"People are confused, and rightly so. The Passport Terms haven't been updated to reflect our privacy policy. We're sorry."

The existing Terms of Use to Passport - the authentication hub for Hotmail, MSN Instant Messenger and many other Microsoft web services - appear to entitle Microsoft to users' copyright and patents. We first covered this in a story last week here.

However each Passport service has its own Terms of Use, although this muddies rather than clarifies the waters. For example, under the Hotmail conditions, Microsoft says it does not claim ownership of your material.... Er, except when it does.

Specifically, when information is posted in a public area, "in connection with the operation of [Microsoft and its affiliates and sub-licensees] Internet business." That sounds like a whole different kettle of fish, but we're sure we could find lawyers to argue that Passport conditions apply to Hotmail - since Passport is the authentication mechanism for Hotmail - and that email can be construed as public.

Of course neither of these is a sensible position - but that hasn't prevented bad law being made - as the US DMCA Act and the British RIP Act demonstrate.

Pilla said the Terms were being revised to bring them up to date with Microsoft's TRUSTe privacy policy, claiming that the privacy policy "trumped" the Passport Terms.

But that isn't actually the case, as the privacy policy covers data about you, not what you say. When pressed, Tom advised us to "ask TRUSTe".

Pilla also denied that Microsoft had seen users defect from the Hotmail in the past week. But our mailbag tells us otherwise. Although the Passport Terms of Use are in likelihood unenforceable, Register readers are leaving nothing to chance.

Passport to hell

We've had letters from Hotmail users ranging from IT consultants to Hollywood screenwriters vowing never to use the service again. (We'll post a selection shortly). And some websites are reciprocating Microsoft's Passport terms, by beginning to block Hotmail email too. Steve Litt of Troubleshooters.com revised his own terms to block Passport services. Moongroup simply blocks incoming postings from Hotmail, MSN, or Microsoft itself.

Pilla also denied that Passport subscribers were being told they couldn't unsubscribe from the network. That seems to be as legally unenforceable as the original Terms Of Use, but we'll return to that one. ®

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