A few days ago I noted that Micorsoft had quietly laid their online Persona project to rest, as detailed in the NYT, because of partner resistance to data-sharing and dependency. In short, potential commercial partners with Microsoft were reluctant to cede adminstrative and (in all probablity) legal control to our buddies in Redmond.

Well, endless source of hilarity that it is, As The Apple Turns covers continuing Microsoft interest in providing this service. But in this incarnation, the client is the gummint! This Seattle Times story has the details. To read AtAT’s always entertaing coverage, go here and search for scene number 3697.

I think this is a fascinating issue, and Microsoftian paranoia aside (worth a laugh, but not a way of life), Redmond is actually right on the money. Whether or not it’s in our best interests as citizens and consumers is another issue entirely: current privacy legislation actually mandates the creation of a centralized privacy profile for each discrete consumer of online services, which that consumer has direct, unmediated online access to, and which would grow and change as the consumer moves through the net.

It’s not that the laws spell this out, but because an online sevice by its’ nature must adhere to the varying regulations of multiple geographic jurisdictions, the effective regulatory space is the end-result of the overlap between these juridictions. It’s a giant pain. The regs that are in place are generally good ones which have as their intent the defense of the individual citizen from legal or commercial abuses; but the sum effect of the regs is to essentially guarantee violation by any online provider that collects personal data.

I spent a long time thinking about this from the perspective of online marketers a couple of years ago, and it was my conclusion (strikingly similar to that of Microsoft) that the solution was to provide a single online profiling service to which online services would subscribe and which would serve as a single point of access for personal data on the part of the consumer.

Adam Engst of TidBITS and others initiated an independent service to provide this sort of thing, XNS.org, which includes the all-important concept of a non-profit organization as the primary custodian of the data. While this is what I believe will eventually emerge as the long-term resolution of this issue, Microsoft’s active pursuit of this function as a governmental service reflects current political realities with great accuracy. In our current political climate, new functions which would legitimately be governmental are most likely to be developed, delivered, and maintained by non-governmental entities.

PREDICTION: we will see the development and passage of quite satisfactory central online profile services and regulations which will be both a prerequisite for certain online activities (such as keeping log info that includes IP numbers, setting cookies, or using forms) and will require the use of certified service providers (something like the effective rquirement for valid security certificates).

While these services will satisfy the needs of business, government, and privacy advocates, they will be priced at a level which will effectively lock out non-capitalized organizations, thereby creating a restricted business environment which will more effectively permit the consolidated giants of the online world to dominate the market, while at the same time denying the benefis of the dataspace to NGOs such as unions.

It’s a win-win situation, unless you happen to be among the losers. Or is that “lusers”?