Microsoft has rapidly rewritten its Passport service's terms of use after customers and privacy advocates complained the document appeared to grant the company ownership of people's content.

Passport lets users register a single user name and password that works at numerous websites. A major Passport site is the company's free web mail site Hotmail. The original terms of use agreement appeared to give Microsoft wide-ranging control of information, including passwords, that its customers store using the Passport service.

Faced with a brewing public relations fiasco, Microsoft posted revised terms of use on Wednesday night, which indicate the company will own only customer communications with Microsoft.

The most user concern was focused on wording that granted Microsoft and unspecified affiliates the right to "use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display", and take other actions with any messages, files, or data entered into Passport websites.

Microsoft plans to use its Passport service as a component of other upcoming web-based services including its HailStorm web hosting services. Critics said Microsoft was positioning itself to take control of anything users stored on its servers, from business plans to fiction writing to financial records.

"We were in error for having that up there," says Tom Pilla, a Microsoft spokesman. The company hadn't updated the terms of use to reflect the company's policies and Passport's current privacy statement, he says. The privacy statement would have trumped the erroneous terms of use anyway, he says.