REDMOND, Wash., October 11, 1999 — Microsoft today launched Passport, a single sign-in and wallet service for communication and commerce on the Internet. By creating a single Passport “identity,” users can easily access information and purchase goods on multiple Web sites using a single login and password. Brad Chase, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Consumer and Commerce Group and a key leader in the company’s Internet strategy, spoke with PressPass about this new service.
PressPass: Passport has been available for a few months on MSN.com, and it already has millions of users. What does today’s announcement mean?
Chase: Microsoft Passport’s single sign-in service has been available since July on a number of MSN sites, such as MoneyCentral, Web Communities, Auctions, and Hotmail. Today, we’re announcing the broader availability of the Passport wallet service, with more than 50 Internet sites committed to supporting the Passport wallet — including leading merchants like barnesandnoble.com, Buy.com, and Costco.com. This new service allows online shoppers to purchase items with ease, eliminating the need to repeatedly type the same shipping and billing information when ordering products or services at different Web sites.
PressPass: How do you see Passport growing as we head into the holiday shopping season? How will the formal launch help the service’s expansion?
Chase: We will continue to sign up new merchants. Each site’s implementation schedule will vary, but we’re strongly encouraging them to go live in time for the holidays. Passport members are able to find out which sites now use the service, and which are coming soon, by checking the directory of participating sites at the Passport Web site. We expect a good number of merchants to be live with the service for the holiday shopping season.
From a business partner perspective, this launch provides Microsoft with the opportunity to tell the industry that Passport is officially “open for business.” We’re very excited to announce that a large number of leading Web merchants have already committed to supporting the wallet service, and that will certainly attract other online businesses.
PressPass: How is Passport different from competing services?
Chase: Other services now available offer only subsets of Passport’s capabilities. Passport offers a more complete suite of services, including an electronic wallet service as well as a single sign-in that provides a login name and a set of mostly optional demographic information that can be used across multiple Web sites. Some of Passport’s other benefits include giving consumers the ability to use their Passport identity across many Internet sites, not simply within a proprietary network, and a server-side design, which provides consumers access to their Passport anytime, anywhere, using any Internet device.
PressPass: What benefits does Passport offer online merchants that their own proprietary systems do not?
Chase: Today, each Web site asks consumers to fill out practically the same time-consuming purchase form. This just isn’t a good use of their time and many consumers simply give up, leaving a full shopping cart. Companies that participate in the Passport service are providing their customers with the convenience and simplicity they’ve grown accustomed to when purchasing offline. A comparison might be made to the evolution of the credit-card industry. Consumers used to carry heavy wallets stuffed with a different credit card for every store. Today, they can use one universal credit card at millions of stores.
One of the reasons businesses have preferred their own wallet systems to date is that those systems match their sites’ look and feel. We’ve addressed that by designing Passport to be highly customizable. As Passport customers purchase goods and services from participating sites, they maintain a continuous association with each merchant’s site and brand. Also, we’ve ensured that Passport is easy to implement. Merchants simply incorporate a link into their purchase pages and retrieve data posted from the Passport server.
PressPass: Microsoft recently agreed with competitors such as Sun Microsystems and AOL on a new technical format for electronic wallets called “electronic-commerce modeling language,” or ECML. What will this new standard mean to Passport users?
Chase: The new ECML format is an effort by Microsoft and other e-commerce leaders to make online purchasing easier for all consumers and merchants. The market acceptance and widespread appeal of electronic wallets has been hampered by a lack of standards. ECML simply defines a set of uniform field names for common commerce data that wallets and merchants can use to improve their communications. Even though wallets using ECML carry the same field names for the data that they manage, the user experience will be different from one wallet to the next. And the sites that support each wallet also will vary. The benefit to Passport members is that many more merchants can easily process the information they receive from consumers using Passport wallets.
PressPass: Microsoft assures that information in the Passport wallet is secure and private. How does Passport help users control how their personal information is used on the Internet?
Chase: Passport ensures that its members always control the information stored in their Passport. Members decide which Web sites receive that information when they choose to sign into or use their Passport wallet.
In addition, Passport makes managing this information much easier for consumers by allowing them to store it in one location. This really makes updates a breeze. For example, let’s say you often send gifts to your parents. If they move, all you need to do is update their address once, rather than changing it at every site you frequent.
Passport also helps consumers control the use of their information by requiring all participating Web sites to adopt privacy policies that conform to industry-recognized privacy standards. The sites must also post a link to their policy from their front page, so that consumers have an easy time finding the policy if they want to review it.
PressPass: How much information about my online activities and me personally is shared by Passport and participating Web sites?
Chase: First, the only information that can be shared between Microsoft and the participating Passport sites is the demographic and wallet information that a member has provided. When a member signs into a Web site, Microsoft sends the site that member’s zip code, country, and city or region. The member may also choose to provide his or her nickname, e-mail address, age, gender, and language preference when signing in.
Separately, when members decide to use their wallets to buy something online, only the specific billing and shipping information selected for that particular purchase will be sent to that site. The site may ask consumers for additional information, such as their dress size or airline seating preference — but this information is not stored in the member’s Passport and, therefore, is not shared with other sites that the member chooses to sign into or purchase from.
PressPass: How does Passport fit into Microsoft’s new “Everyday Web” Internet strategy?
Chase: The “Everyday Web” is Microsoft’s vision of making the Web an essential and valuable part of people’s lives. Passport’s role in this strategy is to make common activities, such as shopping online and getting access to information or communications services, significantly easier. These activities usually require the consumer to share information with a site. Passport’s single sign-in and wallet services provide the key for making these exchanges easier, faster, and more secure. And, consumers can access their Passport wallet anytime, anywhere, using any device connected to the Internet.
The “Everyday Web” vision for businesses is to provide a comprehensive and integrated suite of services to help companies leverage the Internet to increase their sales and profits. For them, Passport’s services provide an opportunity to improve their customers’ experience by streamlining purchasing and simplifying sign-in and registration. Not only will this allow online merchants to increase their revenue, it will help them build stronger relationships with their customers.