Amidst bureaucratic wrangling and legal arguments in the upper echelons of the world’s legislative bodies, Microsoft has decided to take matters into its own hands when it comes to ‘do not track’ web browser functionality. In the first release candidate (RC) of IE9, Microsoft is rolling out two options that enable the users to be proactive in deciding which websites are allowed to track them and to what extent they are allowed to track. Microsoft explains the new functions in a video:
The release comes on the heels of an extensive Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that discussed the idea of DNT lists in a lot of detail. Microsoft is attempting to answer many of the questions and suggestions that the report brought up.
On the IE team, we’ve asked similar questions and want to make progress operationally as well as in the public discussion. We want to develop (as the recent FTC report put it) “more effective technologies for consumer control” and make progress on the report’s recommendation of “a browser-based mechanism through which consumers could make persistent choices” regarding tracking. Today, we’re offering an early look at a way to enable operational progress in the privacy discussion.
The two new tools are Tracking Protection Lists and Tracking Protection. Tracking Protection is simply an opt-in function that enables users to be more vigilant in discovering who or what is tracking their activity and visits to any given website. A Tracking Protection List is a publically shareable list of websites that your browser will not request data from unless explicitly requested from the user. For example, when you visit abcd.com, content from 1234.com may be tracking you via an embedded image. If 1234.com is in your TPL, this content will be blocked, and will not be allowed to track you. However, the list doesn’t block the actual website from being browsed. You can still can still browse 1234.com directly if you wish to.
Microsoft emphasizes that, while these privacy measures are definitely a step forward in the never ending dialogue of browser privacy, “the web lacks a good precise definition of what tracking means.” In other words, they aren’t trying to create any kind of standard here. This is more of an experiment to see of such functionality would meet user needs and wants when it comes to opt in options for privacy on the web.