Microsoft will build software for managing identities into Windows in order to beef up security by giving users more control over their personal information
The ID technology called "info-cards" will give users more control over their own personal information in order to shop and access services online, said Michael Stephenson, director in Microsoft's Windows Server division.
Microsoft is currently working on a new Internet Explorer Web browser and version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, but Stephenson declined to say whether "info-cards" would be built into the current Windows XP version or Longhorn.
"We're trying to make the end-user experience as simple as possible," Stephenson said, adding that Microsoft's "goal is to make sure that this is as broadly accessible as possible."
The initiative is the latest effort by the software giant to improve the reliability and security of its software. Identity theft has become a growing concern in the United States as personal data is increasingly used to make purchases, and log into Web sites for vital information and services.
The U.S. government is considering greater regulation of data brokers following a rash of break-ins and other data losses that have heightened concern about identity theft -- a crime that costs consumers and businesses an estimated $50 billion annually.
The technology proposed by Microsoft is reminiscent of two software tools detailed by the Redmond, Washington-based company in 2001 called Passport and Hailstorm.
Hailstorm was quietly shelved after privacy advocates said it put too much sensitive information into the hands of a single company and partners expressed similar reservations.
Passport, used to provide a single log-in for multiple Web sites and store basic personal information, did not gain the wide audience that Microsoft hoped for. Online marketplace eBay Inc. (EBAY.O: Quote, Profile, Research) , an early Passport adopter, stopped using the service for its users in January.
While Microsoft's earlier plans involved the use of centrally stored information beyond computer desktop, the "info-card" system will keep data stored on a personal computer, Microsoft said.
"It's going to put control of digital IDs into the hands of an end-user, the end-user will be in full control," Stephenson said.
ChoicePoint Inc. (CPS.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , which maintains personal profiles of nearly every U.S. consumer for companies that need to conduct credit and security checks, said earlier this year that it inadvertently gave criminals tens of thousands of consumer records, sparking fears of widespread identity theft and government probes.
On Monday, the University of California, Berkeley, said that a laptop computer containing the names and Social Security numbers of nearly 100,000 graduates, graduate students and applicants, was stolen earlier in March and that police were investigating the theft.