WSJ: Microsoft dumped plans to make InPrivate filter enabled by default

When you hear someone talk about online privacy, you think of security surrounding your online activities, or the anonymity that it provides you from the spying eyes of organizations and governments. The Wall Street Journal believes that these issues are being ignored by the companies behind the big browsers, in favor of solutions that better allow advertisers to make money, as almost all of the players in the browser wars have advertising arms (Microsoft, Google, Apple, and also Adobe). The graphic below shows a breakdown of how the big online advertisers track a user’s online activities.

Image Credit: WSJ

In a test conducted by the WSJ, they found that by visiting fifty of the most popular websites in the US, an average of “64 pieces of tracking technology” would be installed onto a user’s machine – by each site. Tracking technologies track a user’s web-activities over time, and are then used by advertisers to better target their advertising. The article, which is mostly around Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, notes that Microsoft manages advertising on four of these sites.

According to the WSJ, Microsoft product planners had originally wanted Internet Explorer to have default privacy settings that were “industry-leading”, but instead opted to have these settings disabled by default. This decision was believed to be the result of Microsoft’s fears around the potential to of Internet Explorer 8 to reduce advertising revenue, although Microsoft claims that privacy vs. revenue issues were balanced out in the product development process. Whilst advertisers agree with Microsoft’s choices in the development of Internet Explorer 8, privacy groups say that with users not being prompted about the ‘InPrivate Filter’ and with no option to turn that filter mode on by default, the end result is a “disappointment”. Internet Explorer 8 has been well received by the public, increasing it's market-share in recent months.

Whilst the article claims that online privacy may be suffering due to conflicts of interest within the companies developing browsers, it does not provide any evidence that user security is being placed at risk. It's also important to note (as pointed out by artfuldodga on Twitter) that cookies are often used for other, non-tracking reasons such as storing a users website login information or website preferences.

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19 Comments

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I believe a lot of people (including the writer/WSJ) here are confusing InPrivate Filtering (which can be used for adblocking, etc.) and InPrivate Browsing (aka. porn mode). InPrivate Browsing is the mode where no cookies, passwords, etc. are stored so it being mentioned in the article is probably a mistake. InPrivate Filtering is where items showing up on multiple sites can be blocked, that would most likely be the focus of the article with reference to ad revenue.

To enable InPrivate Filtering to Automatically block by default turn it on in IE8 then exit, then:
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Safety\PrivacIE]
"StartMode"=dword:00000001

To enable InPrivate Filtering to only block what you choose (ie. not start blocking things of its own accord) - my preferred:
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Safety\PrivacIE]
"StartMode"=dword:00000002

Then you can just import the newest filter xml file (based on Adblock Plus) into Manage Addons from here:
http://forums.overclockers.co....php?p=16784084#post16784084

Bob's your uncle.

P.S. Now if only someone could write an addon which could automatically import the newest xml file we'd be set.

osm0sis said,
I believe a lot of people (including the writer/WSJ) here are confusing InPrivate Filtering (which can be used for adblocking, etc.) and InPrivate Browsing (aka. porn mode).

Considering the Neowin article doesn't even contain the word "Filtering" yet the WSJ article mentions it twice (and NOT InPrivate Browsing), yes, there is some confusion here. Guilty as charged...

No way. The top 3 online advertising companies provide a large share of the online ads? That's just crazy.

I cannot help but wonder how many sites would simply not work with InPrivate browsing.

"It's also important to note (...) that cookies are often used for other, non-tracking reasons such as storing a users website login information or website preferences."

The funny, relevant point in this remark is that cookies *also* serve purposes other than tracking
I always knew it the other way around !

WTF is WSJ smoking? Having InPrivate browsing enabled by default would cripple browser usability and leave millions wondering why the browser keeps "forgetting things" unexpectedly. Idiots!...

InPrivate only blocks content (inc cookies) that appears on more than X number of sites (where X is the number you set). For example InPrivate will not block cookies for 4OD, neowin or FriendFace etc because they are just used within the confinds of the site. It may however block advertisements within those sites as that content often appears on multiple sites.

McDave said,
InPrivate only blocks content (inc cookies) that appears on more than X number of sites (where X is the number you set). For example InPrivate will not block cookies for 4OD, neowin or FriendFace etc because they are just used within the confinds of the site. It may however block advertisements within those sites as that content often appears on multiple sites.

InPrivate does more than that though. Many usability features are switched off as well like your history, password saving, etc.

jakem1 said,

InPrivate does more than that though. Many usability features are switched off as well like your history, password saving, etc.

No they aren't. I use InPrivate mode as the default and my history/saved passwords/etc are fine. InPrivate does what McDave said: it blocks objects that are common between multiple web sites.

As osm0sis has pointed out below there is confusion between InPrivate Browsing/Filtering. The WSJ article talks about the filter but neowin uses browsing. I didn't read your comment carefully enough and though you ment filter. We are both right and wrong at the same time. Sorry.

oh please, these are just cookies and can be turned off - IE is doing nothing different to the other major browsers so I call 'misleading bull****' on this article and the research done by WSJ.

All this will do is filter through to the media and then scare people who cant distinguish between 'online threats' and 'tracking cookies' - the latter being simply used to target ads at people's machines and don't provide any user info.

If you set IE to InPrivate then when you restart the browser, IE convienently forgets the inPrivate setting. Microsoft made this change in the final release of IE 8.
In the releases before the final, InPrivate was a 'sticky' setting.
So WSJ is basically correct -- Microsoft made a conscious decision to not save the InPrivate setting.

The only way is start the browser by default in InPrivate mode is to use a command-line parameter.

And InPrivate goes beyond cookies, these are other ways to save tracking data in IE.

You can also persistantly set the InPrivate Filter at startup by adding the registry key.[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Safety\PrivacIE]
"StartMode"=dword:00000001

figgy - If you know that much about IE then I assume you know that long before IE8, you were able to control cookies as you saw fit. Its what I have done for years. I have IE set to prompt me before allowing any cooking in my PC and I get to choose which ones to allow and which to deny.

figgy said,
If you set IE to InPrivate then when you restart the browser, IE convienently forgets the inPrivate setting. Microsoft made this change in the final release of IE 8.
In the releases before the final, InPrivate was a 'sticky' setting.
So WSJ is basically correct -- Microsoft made a conscious decision to not save the InPrivate setting.

The only way is start the browser by default in InPrivate mode is to use a command-line parameter.

And InPrivate goes beyond cookies, these are other ways to save tracking data in IE.


Doesn't the private mode of every browser work this way though?

Also, there is an easy way to start IE in InPrivate mode on Windows 7; just right-click on it when it is pinned to either the Taskbar or Start Menu and select the InPrivate option from the jumplist.

Calum said,

Doesn't the private mode of every browser work this way though?

Also, there is an easy way to start IE in InPrivate mode on Windows 7; just right-click on it when it is pinned to either the Taskbar or Start Menu and select the InPrivate option from the jumplist.

I believe he is talking about the InPrivate filtering mode, not the browsing mode. The InPrivate filtering mode blocks third-parties from accessing information about you by their ads being displayed on several different websites, it can block it. When you do this though, webpages usually lose functionality and some ads stop displaying. But it does do it's job.

InPrivate filtering was most likely turned off by default because most websites will lose all their ads. For example, turning InPrivate filtering on blocks all Neowin ads automatically. Why? Because these ads track you, creating statistics about the websites you browse to make the perfect ads for you. InPrivate filtering was introduced for this exact reason, so third-parties couldn't do that to you. But because most ads are like that, they all break, and that's when Microsoft woke up to reality and realized they made the browser capable of blocking ads...something that might bite them later.