REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 20, 2001 — Russell Shilling, an experimental psychologist for the U.S. Navy, often thinks about ways to protect his privacy, both personally and professionally.
“I do a lot of work both at home and at the office,” Shilling explains. “I take the time to make sure I’ve got the firewall updated. I have automatic updates set up on the Microsoft products. I don’t mind sitting down once a week and updating security patches.”
But Shilling, who helps the Navy design aerospace simulators and virtual environments, says privacy protections should be easier and more automated for the average computer user. “I always think of someone like my father in these instances,” he says. “My father, like most people, doesn’t really worry enough about privacy and security, and those that do often find the solutions at hand too time-consuming and difficult.”
Shilling, however, takes comfort knowing companies like Microsoft are taking charge in this arena, listening to computer users and attempting to address privacy and online safety concerns in a way that makes sense for consumers.
Because basic privacy and security protections are important to Microsoft’s customers, the latest generation of such Microsoft products as Windows XP feature a variety of privacy tools — intended both to make surfing safer for the consumer and to make basic privacy protection a very simple process.
“One of the things that we have a rule about is, we don’t put in new features if they don’t enhance performance,” says Michael Wallent, product unit manager of Internet Explorer at Microsoft. “These new settings give consumers a privacy choice and a control model, but they also deliver the quick and capable browser software familiarity people have come to expect from Internet Explorer.”
This week Microsoft introduces a new, online privacy quiz ( http://www.microsoft.com/privacy/safeinternet/quiz/default.asp ), enabling people to gauge their comfort level on information privacy and computer safety. After answering 10 basic questions, users find out what kind of Web user they are (ranging from a “Defender” to an “Accepter”). Based on their type, users also get safety tips on how to better control the flow of information to and from their computer. If consumers use Windows XP or have downloaded Internet Explorer 6.0 from the Web, they also learn how to set their browser to a level of privacy protection that best suits their lifestyle and Internet surfing habits.
Suzette Moyer, a newspaper designer in Connecticut and the mother of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, says the quiz put her right where she needed to be in terms of protection.
“I don’t know that I worry about privacy so much for me or my husband, because we try to be as careful and as informed as we can be in this day and age,” Moyer says. “I came out a ‘Guardian,’ and it’s true, I am a bit cautious but not overly. My kids are young yet, but as they spend more and more time on the computer, I want them to be safe as much as I want them to learn and have fun.”
Keeping abreast of Internet safety education and practical privacy tips is crucial, Moyer says. She appreciates that Internet Explorer 6.0 also furnishes her with a speedy, one-click access to a summary of a site’s privacy practices — if the site has a Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) statement.
“We believe in giving notice,” Microsoft’s Wallent says. “We want people to see privacy policies and provide them with a clearer understanding of cookies and the means to protect themselves, or not, from personal information collection. We inform consumers what’s happening on their machine and offer many different choices as to how their private information is handled.”
Windows XP also includes fast-user switching, which allows multiple users to work on a single Windows XP machine by creating individual personal accounts, which completely separate each person’s data from that of the other users. The administrator can indicate varying degrees of access to the system by specifying one of three profiles for each user.
Microsoft has long sought to improve its products and services in ways that protect consumer privacy. In December 2000, Microsoft launched Safe Internet ( http://www.microsoft.com/safeinternet/ ), a user-friendly Web site that provides helpful privacy and security tools and advice to consumers. And earlier this month, the company hosted Trusted Computing, its second forum on security and privacy for leaders in industry, law enforcement, policy, academia and consumer protection.
“Microsoft is concerned about privacy because our customers are concerned about privacy,” Wallent says. “Making sure consumers are armed with the information and tools necessary to effectively protect themselves is absolutely the right thing to do.”