Photo: teejayhanton via Flickr
Google isn’t the only company talking about the future of browsers today: Microsoft announced new privacy protection features for the next version of Internet Explorer that could make it harder for advertisers to track users across multiple sites. But it’ll only work if people turn it on. History suggests they won’t.The new feature will automatically block content from third-party domains unless they’re on a safe list. For example, if you’re visiting CNN.com, you might see text or banner ads delivered from a third-party network with a different domain. If that third-party network is on a special list called a Tracking Protection List, then the ad will be blocked.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because IE8 has a very similar feature called InPrivate Filtering. The difference is that InPrivate Filtering builds the list automatically based on what it sees happening. With TPL, users have to choose a list of unsafe domains they can block. Or, more likely, third-party privacy advocates will build and maintain these lists, and users will pick the ones they want to use.
Similarly, content sites that use a lot of third-party material can create their own TPLs with exceptions for third-party domains. If users accept these TPLs, they’ll see the site with all the content that’s intended, and will be better informed about where that content is coming from than they are today.
The concept of TPL builds on a suggestion by the FTC that users should be able to ask advertisers to stop following them around from site to site. The trouble with that FTC proposal is that advertisers won’t have to participate unless Congress gets its act together and passes a law requiring them to.
In fact, explains Internet Explorer manager Dean Hachamovich, the very definition of “tracking” is open to debate. As he points out, a lot of the discussion focuses on cookies. But advertisers and networks have more subtle ways of tracking you–all they have to do is collect the IP address of a Web browser that has downloaded a particular piece of content.
Rather than wait, Microsoft decided to use technology to let users block these kinds of ads today.
There’s one catch: as was the case with InPrivate Filtering, TPL is “opt in” by default. That means users will have to turn TPL on manually and figure out which lists they want to use.
Good luck with that. If InPrivate Filtering is any example, most users won’t even know the feature is there.
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