Hot on the heels of a call for a user-controlled tracking prevention mechanism from the FTC comes news that Microsoft is introducing a new privacy feature to the next version of its browser - Internet Explorer 9. The Tracking Protection tool is aimed at helping netizens take control of online tracking from within the browser.
When you visit a website, you may assume that any information about your visit that's collected and stored by the website owners stays with them - but that's not necessarily true. These days, what you see displayed in a browser window is likely to be a patchwork of content provided by numerous other websites across the web. Each of these Third Party sites gets access to some of the information about you that's gleaned from the browser when you access the page.
Some of the hundreds of different sites you might pass through in the course of the week will inevitably use content that originates from the same source. These common sources will be able to see where you have been during your virtual travels and could use this information to generate user profiles.
There are instances when tracking information can be put to good use, such as allowing a shopping site to record purchase information. What's needed is some sort of balance between preserving the ability to have online privacy and the marketing needs of industry.
Microsoft has started the ball rolling with the announcement that the next version of Internet Explorer will feature a mechanism that will allow users to have some control over which third-party site elements within a web page are allowed to collect data about the user and which are not.
The release candidate version of IE9 will include a new opt-in mechanism called Tracking Protection Lists that will allow users to create allow and block lists for Third Party website content, somewhat like the anti-spam black and white lists now operated by most email clients. A user will be able to tell the browser which websites they'd rather not exchange information with and the next time they visit a website containing content sourced from that website, it will be blocked.
The list will remain active until the user turns it off and there will be the facility to publish lists for others to install and use. Users will also be able to install or create more than one list. The feature is still in development and is expected to evolve over time in response to the ever changing privacy debate.
A more detailed introduction to the new feature appears on the IE blog.