This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Media Unspun email newsletter and is Copyright 2002 by Keith Dawson.
M E D I A   U N S P U N
FTC Stamps Microsoft's Passport

Yesterday Microsoft settled a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission that its Passport user-ID service had violated its own privacy policy and was insufficiently secure. Almost every outlet featured the story prominently, and the Wall Street Journal emailed one of its infrequent Technology Alerts yesterday after the FTC/Microsoft conference call.

The coverage was unusually uniform, even though most outlets assigned their own reporters and didn't rely on wire copy. Almost everybody we surveyed quoted the same sound bites from the FTC chair, the Microsoft VP, and the head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Few reporters bothered to call their favorite industry analysts for a comment. Only on Slashdot, bastion of anti-Microsoft sentiment, could one find criticism of the FTC's ruling or of Microsoft's stance. Unspun is tempted to summarize the Slashdotters' view of Microsoft this way: "We didn't do it. You can't prove anything. We'll never do it again."

For the long-time Microsoft observer, though, the company's response to the FTC's complaint and its resolution was muted, almost meek. Here is senior vice president Brad Smith, as quoted in CNET's "Our agreement with the FTC underscores our commitment as a company to forge a more constructive dialog with government on important public issues."

Well might they forge a more constructive dialog. Information Week's brief coverage took a broad look at the landscape of "Microsoft's seemingly endless legal tussles with an alphabet soup of state, federal, and international agencies." Both Seattle papers wrote of Microsoft's plan to use the FTC settlement to forestall the scrutiny of a pending European Commission investigation.

The L.A. Times underscored the far-reaching nature of the FTC action, calling it "by far the most aggressive to enforce the terms of privacy policies and other claims on business Web sites." Several outlets pointed out that, while Microsoft was the target, other companies and Web sites are not off the hook. The Associated Press and others noted a comment by FTC Chairman Timothy Muris directed at the Liberty Alliance, Passport's most visible competition for the business of identity management: "If I were them, I'd read the order carefully." - Keith Dawson

Microsoft Settles U.S. Charges Passport Service Misled Public,,SB1028814666796661120,00.html
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