27 May 2002 The European Union (EU) has launched an investigation into Microsoft’s .Net Passport user authentication service, to examine whether the system’s approach to gathering personal data from online users breaches EU privacy laws.
The probe follows questions raised by a Dutch member of the European Parliament, Erik Meijer. He has argued that users find it impossible to un-register from the embryonic .Net Passport service and so remove their personal details from the Microsoft-controlled system. He has also suggested that any failure to register with Passport will result in users being excluded from other sites’ services.
.Net Passport is used as a central authentication mechanism, allowing Internet users to sign-on once and then interact freely with multiple ecommerce sites or email services – both Microsoft and non-Microsoft. It is an evolution of Microsoft’s widely-used Passport service which manages access to its Hotmail email, MSN portal and other services.
Commenting on the investigation, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Frits Bolkestein, told the Reuters news agency that “the Commission is … looking into this as a matter of priority, in concert with national data protection authorities, as regards the system’s compatibility with EU data protection law.”
Microsoft is already under scrutiny by the EU for allegedly optimising Windows so that its own server software works more efficiently than rival products with the operating system.