• United States



Microsoft, Where Is Your Privacy Dashboard?

Jun 18, 20104 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

People want, and need, transparency on what you are doing with their cloud data.

If Microsoft would focus its scattered efforts, it might become a powerhouse to compete with Google’s growing power and to give Apple a black-eye too. Microsoft has the masses, the user base, because, at least for now, most of the world runs on Windows. Because of that fact, Windows is the low hanging fruit and prime hacking target. That much Microsoft can’t help, but it could help out its image by not dragging its feet to fix vulnerabilities which can be exploited. MS might also gain support from privacy watchdogs if it had some transparency, offered choices and some control over a user’s stored info and digital life.

Microsoft seems to be trying to pull it together, merging freebie Web tools and aiming new products at crossover groups. The big M is even integrating its new wares with popular tools made by others.

Just this week, Windows Live Sync beta blended the best of Sync and Mesh. The newly announced controller-free Kinect device will enable Xbox LIVE users to have real-time video conversations with its mass force of Windows Live Messenger users. The Windows Phone 7 looks promising in terms of convergence; simply feed in all your account details and you will pull your digital life into one handy device, Outlook, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and Windows Live.

If Microsoft can do the best job of syncing our PCs, cell phones, gaming, music, photos and other stored online data, it may come in the back door and win our loyalty.

But, if Microsoft becomes the best place to manage our online presence, it raises the question of privacy. Although anyone could “Google” for the answer, I gave MS a chance to respond, to be fair, about if it had a Microsoft-flavored version of Google Dashboard.

Microsoft’s Christopher Budd, Response Manager, Trustworthy Computing, replied, ‘We don’t currently have a consolidated dashboard across all of our online services.’

‘We have worked hard to help ensure Microsoft products and services clearly define and communicate policies that explain to customers what types of information we collect and how it may be used. To make our data practices easier for customers to understand, Microsoft has consolidated all privacy statements for its major consumer online properties under a single, unified privacy statement. The unified privacy statement uses a simple “layered” format, which is consistent with what customers told us was the best way to provide them with privacy notices.”‘

If Microsoft suffers another huge breach, they could blow it. Although some people recall that Microsoft did manage to fix the situation and recover most of the data for most of its users, too many consumers recall the snafu of lost data on Sidekick messaging phones. Now the Mighty M has to win back lost trust.

As all these services proliferate and merge, and generate data on the people who use them, what is Microsoft doing with the info stored in its cloud?

Budd answered, ‘Microsoft endeavors to protect the privacy and security of our customers. As outlined in our privacy statement, Microsoft collects and uses information to deliver the services or carry out the transactions our customers have requested. Microsoft has consolidated all privacy statements for its major online consumer properties under a single, unified privacy statement.’

‘Microsoft is committed to protecting the security of your personal information. We use a variety of security technologies and procedures to help protect your personal information from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure. For example, we store customer information on computer systems with limited access, which are located in controlled facilities. When we transmit highly confidential information over the Internet, we protect it through the use of encryption. All information that can be shared publicly about this topic is posted on the GFS external web site’s security page here.’

Although Microsoft does not yet have a one-stop interface, it is moving closer to merging all its services: Skydrive, Windows Live Sync beta, Live ID (HotMail, Calendar, Messenger, contacts, photo galleries, folder sharing), Live Office, Zune, Xbox Live, and the upcoming Windows 7 Phone. MS also seems to grasp that consumers want freemium Windows services. If it continues to concentrate and to converge as our digital twins and data move closer to living online, it might be Microsoft that comes from behind to win. It might be Microsoft to merge their army of services into a single mega-hub and to own all our data.

If that happens, I’d like to see a privacy “dashboard” that shows users what Microsoft sees, similar to the dashboard that Google created when it came under the gun for a careless attitude toward privacy.

How about you?Why wait for a privacy disaster, Microsoft?

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.