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Microsoft spells out anti-tracking tool in IE9

Slates Tracking Protection feature for early 2011 debut in IE9 release candidate

December 7, 2010 03:29 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft today said that the next major milestone of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) will let users determine who tracks their movement and behavior online, its response to increasing calls for additional consumer control over the practice.

Privacy experts applauded Microsoft's move.

"This is a good development in the discussion of online tracking,' said Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a digital rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Dubbed "Tracking Protection," the feature will debut in the IE9 release candidate, slated to ship early next year, said Dean Hachamovitch, the Microsoft executive who heads IE development.

Tracking Protection will be opt-in -- it's off by default -- and will rely on published lists that selectively block third-party sites and content embedded in Web sites.

"Consumers have very little awareness of who tracks their online activities," said Hachamovitch in a Webcast with reporters early Tuesday. "We're taking another step today with this new privacy feature."

Tracking Protection Lists, the block lists that IE9 calls on to stymie unwanted tracking, can be created by anyone or any organization, said Hachamovitch. Consumers can subscribe to multiple lists and easily unsubscribe to any, he added, comparing the lists to RSS feeds. "Microsoft will not include any lists with IE9," Hachamovitch said.

"The browser will then block all third party content from the sites or addresses in a list," he continued. "This lets consumers chose which third party sites receive your information and see you online." Users will be able to add a list by clicking on a page, and lists can include exclusions to the blocked addresses.

The lists reside on the user's PC, and are updated weekly as the list maker modifies it.

"The first few lists will probably come from people enthusiastic about technology," Hachamovitch said, noting that early browser releases, such as IE9 beta and the upcoming release candidate, or RC build, are usually downloaded and used by early adopters interested in new technology.

"There are a lot of people who care about privacy on the Web," said Brookman of the CDT. "I expect that there will be a lot of people eager to jump into the space."

Among the candidates, Brookman added, could be organizations like the CDT and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a consumer privacy and protection group.

Hachamovitch compared Tracking Protection's lists with the "Do Not Call" list that telephone solicitors are supposed to honor. "You can look at this as a translation of the "Do Not Call" list from the telephone to the browser and Web," he said in an accompanying blog post he wrote today. "It complements many of the other approaches being discussed for browser controls of Do Not Track."

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