Microsoft adds tracking protection to Internet Explorer 9

Microsoft is set to add tracking protection as a new privacy feature for Internet Explorer 9 in attempts to woo back users who have moved onto Firefox or Chrome, but advertisers are not pleased with the announcement.

The feature will involve working closely with privacy groups, who will supply lists with the online addresses of known tracking companies on a weekly basis. Users can then click a button to opt into the tracking protection programme and select a list, where the browser will block the companies in question from tracking users’ whereabouts online.

What is interesting is that this feature was supposed to be in Internet Explorer 8, according to the Wall Street Journal, but got pulled at the last minute after advertisers raised concerns about how the technology would negatively impact on their business, which makes use of tracking users and finding out information about them via the web browser.

A trade group for the online ad industry, worth some $23 billion, criticised Microsoft’s decision to add this feature back into Internet Explorer, but the move was welcomed by regulators and privacy groups and may even help Microsoft pull back users who have switched to other browsers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called for a Do-Not-Track system last week, which would have sent tracking companies a message from a user requesting that they do not be tracked. A major flaw with that approach is that it relies on the companies complying with the request, whereas Microsoft says its approach is more powerful in that it can actively block a tracking company immediately.

“We believe that the combination of consumer opt-in, an open platform for publishing of Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs), and the underlying technology mechanism for Tracking Protection offer new options and a good balance between empowering consumers and online industry needs,” said Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President for Internet Explorer at Microsoft.

The FTC applauded Microsoft’s decision and called for other browser makers, like Mozilla, Google and Apple, to add a similar feature. Until they do Microsoft may be able to lure back people with the promise of a more private browsing experience.