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Microsoft embraces tool to boost Web privacy

The software giant says the new technology will allow people to define what types of information they are willing to reveal as they surf the Web.

Making good on an earlier promise, Microsoft said today it will add to its software a technology that controls how much information Web users reveal.

Microsoft said it will include support for the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specification in its Windows operating system and Internet Explorer Web browser next year. The P3P support will be part of the next version of Windows, code-named Whistler. The new version will be based on Windows 2000 and targeted at both home and business users.

P3P allows Web users to define what types of information they are willing to give, as well as whether they mind sharing that information with outside parties. Internet surfers will receive a warning before visiting sites that go beyond that level.

Microsoft's embrace of P3P is expected to spur Web sites and other software companies to embrace the privacy technology. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an Internet standards group, is working to finish the P3P specification soon.

Sites often disclose their intentions in privacy statements that are difficult to find and understand. In April, a Microsoft executive said the company planned to support P3P in its software so that privacy statements can be machine-readable, allowing Internet surfers to block access to sites that collect too much information.

Today, at a W3C conference in New York, Microsoft unveiled several pieces of P3P-enabled software.

The company demonstrated a privacy-statement generator that asks Web site operators a series of questions about their privacy policies and creates a P3P-compliant statement that can be read by any P3P-enabled client software. The generator is slated to be available later this year, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also showed a P3P-enabled version of Internet Explorer, expected to ship with Whistler next year.