With global attention on how companies track people browsing online, Microsoft has decided to take a proactive approach to privacy with the next version of Internet Explorer. IE9 will offer a feature that Microsoft had originally planned for IE8 called Tracking Protection.
The feature aims to put consumers in control of potential online tracking as they surf the web. Tracking Protection lets consumers filter content in a page that may have an impact on their privacy.
"Our job in developing the next version of IE9 is to find the right balance between the real consumer benefits that can come from sharing, while providing the user choice and control with respect to their privacy," said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft corporate vice president and head of Internet Explorer development. He said Tracking Protection will give consumers control over their information online.
Blocking Browser Profiles
Here's how Tracking Protection works: Consumers can indicate what web sites they would prefer to not exchange information with. Hachamovitch explained that consumers do this by adding Tracking Protection lists to IE. Anyone, and any organization, on the web can create and publish Tracking Protection lists.
"By default, there are no lists included in IE9, which is consistent with our previous IE releases with respect to privacy," Hachamovitch said. "These lists include web addresses for IE to treat as 'Do Not Call' unless the consumer visits the address directly. The lists also include 'OK To Call' addresses to make sure that the user can get to these addresses even if one of their lists has it as 'Do Not Call.' Once the consumer has turned on Tracking Protection, it remains on until the person turns it off."
In practice, this means that if you visit a news site, then a sports site, then some other web site, third-party advertisers can't build a profile of browsing activity. Although there are many benefits to building those profiles, including driving more relevant, personalized content, Microsoft is responding to privacy concerns by giving consumers a way to block that tracking.
Differentiating Via Privacy
Microsoft pointed to other privacy features IE8 already offers that will also be available in IE9, including InPrivate Browsing. InPrivate Browsing helps consumers control what their machine remembers about browsing sessions. InPrivate Filtering was a forerunner of Tracking Protection.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, said Microsoft is trying to find a balance between privacy and advertising. Although Microsoft doesn't want to alienate advertisers, privacy and security are clearly a core issue among some consumers. As he sees it, Microsoft probably made the right decision by focusing on what's best for the end user and not worrying about what advertisers are going to think.
"Privacy is a way of differentiating the browsing experience," Gartenberg said. "We may see different degrees of upmanship as we talk about security and privacy, because all browsers are pretty quick today and they all have tabs. Differentiating through security and privacy is going to drive some users to make their choice."