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More Damned than Indicted

They might call it a new chapter in the ‘Trusted Computing’ story but it appears that Microsoft has been rather more than economical with the truth, the US Federal Trade Commission revealed on Friday.

Of course, I don’t know anyone over the age of seven, who really believed – hand on heart – that the company were being 100% truthful when they made security promises around Passport but it took a complaint from complaint from a consortium of consumer groups led Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to reveal the true extent of the ‘porkies’ that the company was prepared to feed its customers.

According to the Commission's complaint, Microsoft “falsely represented” that:

- It employs reasonable and appropriate measures under the circumstances to maintain and protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumers' personal information collected through its Passport and Passport Wallet services, including credit card numbers and billing information stored in Passport Wallet;

- Purchases made with Passport Wallet are generally safer or more secure than purchases made at the same site without Passport Wallet when, in fact, most consumers received identical security at those sites regardless of whether they used Passport Wallet to complete their transactions;

- Passport did not collect any personally identifiable information other than that described in its privacy policy when, in fact, Passport collected and held, for a limited time, a personally identifiable sign-in history for each user; and

- The Kids Passport program provided parents control over what information participating Web sites could collect from their children

There’s more of course and the proposed consent order prohibits any misrepresentation of information practices in connection with Passport and other similar services. The order also requires Microsoft to implement and maintain a comprehensive information security program, which would really be quite funny to read if it wasn’t so sad to see in print. In addition, Microsoft must have its security program certified as meeting or exceeding the standards in the consent order by an independent professional every two years.

Once again, the vexing question of ‘Corporate Responsibility’ rears its ugly head and that Microsoft is involved comes a s no great surprise to many people. Does anyone really expect large corporations to tell the truth anymore? Yes and No. In reality, I believe the best intention of honesty in business certainly exists but that the Directors, particularly where security is concerned, simply don’t know if they are telling the truth or not and the same argument applies to Government as well.

Information security and the question of its integrity is invariably a delegated and highly technical responsibility. While the CEO of a company might make a promise that your information is safe in his hands, his software technology or information security policy might not be up to the task. Further down the ladder of responsibility, nobody dares contradict the Blairs, Elllisons and Balmers of this world and they hear only what they want to hear until the FTC arrives at the door. It’s ‘Reality Vertigo’ in every sense.

Meanwhile, rumours are circulating that another big name in the industry might be receiving a visit from the Federal authorities in what could be another huge scandal in the making. If you listen carefully, you might even be able to hear the sound of the shredders hard at work over the sounds of aircraft taking off at Heathrow.

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