"These issues will become more important as we evolve in the direction of what we call the .Net future," Microsoft chairman Gates said at Thursday's kickoff here of SafeNet 2000, an invitation-only conference aimed at forging an accord between consumer advocates, government officials, security professionals, and companies seeking a stake in the e-commerce future.
More than 200 top-level experts--including officials from the Department of Defense and the Federal Trade Commission, heads of industry consortiums and consumer-rights advocates--planned to discuss privacy, consumer trust and data security during the day-and-a-half summit.
"In an era where the Internet is increasingly central to our lives at work, at home and at school, it is more important than ever that our industry give customers the assurance that their information will remain secure, respected and private," Gates said in a later statement.
Resolving such issues is of particular importance to Microsoft's .Net vision, in which common PC applications become Internet services and data is synchronized among a host of personal devices.
Still, questions arise over whether consumers concerned with privacy will allow their data to be managed by companies that, in many cases, count others' personal information as a corporate asset.
"What that means is that information that used to be controllable (by consumers) now, for matters of convenience, has to be replicated to all of those devices" and across the Internet, Gates said. "The concerns of who has access to that data will rise to new heights."
People can set IE6 to one of five degrees of privacy, and the browser will alert them--via a red exclamation point at the bottom of the screen--when the current site has a policy that violates their stated preferences. Double-clicking the exclamation point will show which aspects of the site violate the preferences.
Gates also said Microsoft intends to use smart cards--credit cards equipped with a secure chip for holding data--to better protect its systems and source code. The card has to be inserted into a reader connected to the PC for a person to log on, and when it is removed, the PC locks itself.
Such cards, Gates said, have already been issued to Microsoft systems administrators--those with the authority to create new accounts and delete old ones.
Gates stressed that the intent of the seminar was not to tell others about Microsoft's plans, but to learn from the experts and incorporate that thinking into Microsoft's products.
"In all the releases we are doing in our products, the concerns we are discussing at this conference will be a key input in what happens in the future," he said. "This is not a zero-sum game of picking a trade-off and expecting people to live with that."