Thursday, August 21, 2008

Understanding Microsoft .NET Passport

In its ever-expanding push toward computer domination, Microsoft launched a concept called the .NET Passport. (Soon after installation, Windows XP urgently asks you to sign up for one.) In theory, the Passport sounds great: Give Microsoft a user name and password, and you have a Passport. When you visit any Passport-aware Internet sites, you type in your same Passport name and password. You no longer have to remember different user names and passwords for every place that you visit or shop on the Internet.

In fact, when you move from one Passport-enabled site to another, you don't even need to log on again. With the Passport, your personal data travels with you: name, address, and, if you purchased anything, your credit card number. Microsoft says its .NET Passport enables software, Internet services, and computer gadgetry to work together and share information, making the Internet easier for everyone to use.

Think about it, though. No entity should govern your Internet use — except you. The Microsoft Passport contains your Internet identity. With Passport, Microsoft creates a consumer database that's just too powerful. Microsoft can collect information from any Passport-enabled site you visit, so Microsoft knows the stocks you track in Investor.com, the Web pages you view in MSN.com, and where you travel through Expedia.com. When you move from one Passport-enabled site to another, that information could be shared, too.

In concept, Passport sounds great. When computers are working well, they do great things. But everybody knows how terrible computers can be if something goes wrong. Passport offers too much opportunity for things to go wrong. Sure, it's okay to occasionally use a Passport account when there's no alternative. But avoid Passport-enabled sites whenever possible.

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