At a time when online and consumer privacy continues to be a hot-button topic in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., Microsoft this week announced that it is adding an extra layer of privacy options and protections to the next release of web browser Internet Explorer 9.
The upgraded IE9, which is expected to debut early in 2011, will give users the ability to block third party sites from tracking their web browsing and online behavior.
Microsoft says the new Tracking Protection setting is an effort to even out consumers’ need for privacy and control while still letting them capitalize on the benefits that are out there from sharing their information.
“Consumers understand that they have a relationship with the site they visit directly, whose address is clearly visible to them,” says Peter Cullen, Microsoft’s chief privacy strategist. “The modern web though means that web sites include content from many other sites as well. These sites are in position to potentially track consumers, via cookies and other technology mechanisms. This creates a potential trade-off for those consumers with privacy concerns.”
In a practice that infuriates web users everywhere, many websites that include outside content will let those content providers use tracking devices such as cookies to compile data on each visitor’s browsing behavior. Many of these providers are actually ad networks that then, in turn, use the collected information to hone their targeted advertisements to consumers.
Tracking Protection on IE9 lets users create specific tracking protection lists that will block web sites from sharing their browsing behavior data with outside entities. The privacy feature does not, however, directly prevent sites from actually collecting data. Users will have to choose to enable it.
The Microsoft announcement follows a report published last week by the Federal Trade Commission proposing that consumers should be allowed to quickly and easily opt out of the tracking methods that these ad networks and content providers use.
Of course, in typical DC ying/yang fashion, the Interactive Advertising Bureau responded to the report with serious concern. The group argued that the Tracking Protection feature in IE9 may block advertisements that generate revenue for internet publishers and thus allow consumers to get more content for free.
Many experts opine that eventually, ad networks will find a way around tools like Tracking Protection, perhaps by simply separating their tracking functions from the actual ads so as to avoid being blocked. The bottom line: even with IE9’s upgrades, the battle will rage on over online privacy.
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