Microsoft has pushed out a new release candidate of Internet Explorer 9 that includes two new privacy protections designed to enable consumers to prevent tracking by some Web sites.
The new IE 9 release candidate has two separate, but related, technologies aimed at giving users more control over how sites track them and what data is sent back to the site’s owners: Tracking Protection and Tracking Protection Lists. The functionality allows user to specify exactly which sites they will allow to track them to some extent and enables sites to publish lists that show consumers what information might be collected.
The announcement by Microsoft comes in the midst of a complex discussion among lawmakers, regulators and privacy advocates about whether a national “Do-Not Track” list for browsers is desirable or even feasible. The Federal Trade Commission recently proposed such a list in a report it released on privacy issues. Microsoft officials said that they were interested in finding a way to answer some of the same questions raised by the FTC.
“We believe that the combination of consumer opt-in, an open platform for
publishing of Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs), and the underlying
technology mechanism for Tracking Protection offer new options and a
good balance between empowering consumers and online industry needs.
They further empower consumers and complement many of the other ideas
under discussion,” Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president for IE at Microsoft wrote in a blog post about the new features. “While ‘Do not track’ is a meaningful consumer promise around data use, the web lacks a good precise definition of what tracking means.
Until we get there, we can make progress by providing consumers with a
way to limit or control the data collected about them on sites they
don’t visit directly. That kind of control is already technically
feasible today in a variety of ways.
It is important to understand that the feature design makes no judgment
about how information might be used. Rather, it provides the means for
consumers to opt-out of the release of that information in the first
The new privacy mechanisms in IE 9 will be opt-in, so users will need to make conscious decisions about what sites they are blocking and which they are allowing to track them. Users will be able to manually add specific sites to the Tracking Protection mechanism and also can add Tracking Protection Lists published by various Web sites to their browsers. The TPLs will include URLs that the user only wants IE to call out to if the user actually types the address into the browser or clicks on a link to the site.
“In addition to ‘Do Not Call’ entries that prevent information
requests to some web addresses, lists can include ‘OK to Call’ entries
that permit calls to specific addresses. In this way, a consumer can
make exceptions to restrictions on one list easily by adding another
list that includes ‘OK to Call’ overrides for particular addresses,” Hachamovitch wrote. “We
designed this feature so that consumers have a clear, straight forward,
opt-in mechanism to enable a higher degree of control over sharing
their browsing information AND websites can provide easy to use lists to
manage their privacy as well as experience full-featured sites.”