As executives at Microsoft count down the days to the release of the Windows XP operating system, foes and competitors of the company's plans to tightly bundle applications and services with the software are increasing their assault, threatening to delay an October launch by bringing up issues of privacy and competition.
Privacy groups said yesterday that they will file a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that Microsoft's Passport authentication service -- included with the new operating system -- violates the FTC's unfair and deceptive trade practices statute. The groups argue that Microsoft is effectively forcing consumers into storing their personal information with the company.
The privacy complaint comes one day after New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer asked Congress to investigate Microsoft's plans to bundle its media player and instant messaging application with Windows XP (see Senator calls for investigation of Windows XP).
During a press conference Tuesday, Schumer said he would also lobby to win an injunction to delay the October 25 release of Windows XP.
Microsoft responded to the latest string of criticism by noting that it is pursuing negotiations with the US Department of Justice and 18 state attorneys general, though it remains embroiled in a legal battle over the ongoing antitrust case, Microsoft's president and chief operating officer Rick Belluzzo told reporters Tuesday in San Francisco.
"The discussions with the Justice Department are really front and centre," he said, following a keynote at a broadband conference hosted by the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), a trade group representing the cable television industry. He added that the company remains confident that its latest concessions to allow computer manufacturers to sell space on the Windows desktop puts it in good standings with the law. "We feel like it's a very inclusive product," Belluzzo said.
The latest privacy concerns have more to do with consumer advocacy than competitive issues, according to Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, a for-profit privacy advocacy and consulting group among the organisations filing the claim with the FTC.
"We're focusing mainly on Passport but it's unclear how all these moving parts are going to fit together," Catlett says. "There are very significant competitive issues associated, but we're focused on the privacy."
Microsoft's Passport allows internet users to use one password and sign in to gain access to a variety of online services. One of the company's web services, and part of the company's Hailstorm services scheme, Passport stores a user's personal information, including address and payment information. Microsoft currently uses Passport with its free email service, Hotmail.
Along with Junkbusters, the Privacy Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center are heading up the FTC complaint, which Catlett expects to be filed Thursday (US time).
The groups are pursuing concessions from Microsoft that would prohibit the company from "stating or implying that registration is required," Catlett says. Actually, users are not required to enter their personal information when signing up for Passport, according to the complaint. "They can use this product anonymously," he says.