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 its 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. Its 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.