Microsoft says it will offer a privacy setting in the next version of Internet Explorer that will make it easy for users to keep their browsing habits from being tracked by advertising networks and other third-party websites.
The feature, known as Tracking Protection, was unveiled on Tuesday, five days after the Federal Trade Commission, the US government’s top consumer-protection agency, proposed that browsers be equipped with a “do not track” option that prevents websites and advertisers from compiling data about people's web-browsing habits. Microsoft officials said the core of the opt-in feature involves simple text lists that specify the sites that are and are not allowed to track online behavior.
“By designing these sorts of enhancements with privacy in mind at the design phase, we're able to deliver a functionality that provides consumers additional levels of control over what they want to engage in and how they choose to do so,” Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen blogged. “We believe that the combination of consumer control, an open platform for publishing and Tracking Protection Lists, including lists that allow 'calls,' offer progress and a good balance between empowering consumers and online industry needs.”
Browser users are free to create their own Tracking Protection Lists that include the sites that aren't allowed to set cookies, an option that's the browsing equivalent of a “do not call” list. It will also allow users to compile “OK to call” whitelists of sites that have permission to track browsing habits. The file initially will be empty, but users will be free to modify it as they like. Unlike similar settings in IE8, the lists, once activated, will remain in effect across browsing sessions until turned off, Microsoft said.
Individual websites will be free to offer their own lists of external addresses that need access to the user's browser in order to work optimially. Twitter, which regularly relies on Amazon's amazonaws.com to work, might offer a list to make it easy for the address to be whitelisted. The users would be free to accept or reject the suggestions as they see fit, with the understanding that their browsing experience may suffer if some third-party sites are denied access.
Like most other browsers, IE has long made it possible for users to reject all third-party cookies or to accept them and then delete them at the end of a browsing session. The Protected Tracking protection is designed to give more-granular control by making it easy to block or allow specific sites. It will be available in the IE9 release candidate expected early next year.
“The new options available in IE9 represent another step in the journey to optimize the balance between privacy issues and targeted advertising,” Rik van der Kooi, vice president for Microsoft's advertiser and publisher solutions group, said here. “They should serve as a catalyst for continued thoughtful discussion and debate about how best to achieve that balance and in so doing, send a message that we are far better off developing solutions and choices as an industry than if we allow the government to do it for us.” ®