News Analysis

Microsoft pushes for privacy law

Microsoft is leading efforts in the US to introduce a national law to protect consumer privacy, with the introduction of legislation likely in 2006 following heightened consumer concerns about identity theft and online fraud.

The move to support legislation marks a volte-face by Microsoft, which four years ago, helped block a national privacy law in the US, arguing that businesses could be trusted to handle consumer profiles responsibly.

Now, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith has backed the idea, despite the introduction by a number of Fortune 500 companies of their own ‘privacy policies’ that spell out what they do with credit card numbers, birthdates and information given by consumers.

Smith believes a privacy law is necessary to spell out how businesses handle consumer information, shore up consumer confidence and add some clarity to the impenetrable legal jargon resorted to by many companies, amid a  ‘patchwork’ of state laws. eBay and Hewlett-Packard are said to be two prominent other backers of the legislation.

Some action is certainly needed. The advent of identity theft, and the threat of phishing have left a number of users fearful for the security of their personal data online, and contemplating the prospect of giving up on their Amazon.com purchases for a while.

That’s no reflection on Amazon’s security, but simply reflects the real threat to consumers that organised crime, spyware, and phishing now pose. The smart online buyer should already be posing the question: “Are my online purchases safe?”

It’s up to the ‘online’ industry, governments and security providers, to provide a large dose of reassurance!


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