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Microsoft unveils online privacy features for Internet Explorer 9

On the heels of the Federal Trade Commission report encouraging the creation of an online “Do Not Track” mechanism, Microsoft has announced that its upcoming release of Internet Explorer will include Tracking Protection, a feature designed to give users more online privacy protection.

Tracking Protection, which will debut in Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), will identify and block multiple forms of undesired tracking, according to a Microsoft blog post announcing the feature. In addition, “tracking protection lists” will let consumers control what third-party site content can track when they are online.

“We believe that the combination of consumer opt-in, an open platform for publishing Tracking Protection Lists, and the underlying technology mechanism for Tracking Protection, offer new options and a good balance between empowering consumers and online industry needs,” said Microsoft corporate vice president Dean Hachamovitch.

Anyone can author and publish the tracking protection lists, and consumers can install more than one. By default, there are no lists included in IE9, which Microsoft says is consistent with previous IE releases with respect to privacy.

The lists include Web addresses for IE to treat as “Do Not Call” unless the consumer visits the address directly. The lists also include “OK to Call” addresses to make sure that the user can get to these addresses even if one of his lists has it as “Do Not Call.” Once the consumer has turned on tracking protection, it remains on until the person turns it off.

Microsoft representatives said they designed the feature so users can have a clear opt-in mechanism that enables more control over sharing their browsing information. There has been speculation that the FTC’s proposed “Do Not Track” mechanism could harm companies that rely on advertisements geared towards users based on Internet activity.

In response, Microsoft said the enhanced privacy settings in IE9 simply represent an evolution in privacy and security tools that are available to users in Internet Explorer 8.

“IE9’s privacy settings, like those contained in IE8, will not be on by default, but they will allow users to create lists of sites they wish to share information with, as well as sites they do not wish to share information with,” wrote Rik van der Kooi, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s advertiser and publisher solutions group, on the Microsoft Advertising Blog. “The settings do not take a position on managing information; instead, they provide an improved platform for consumers to exercise choice.”

Currently available in beta, IE9 is scheduled for final release in 2011.

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