(Source: Economic Folk)

IE 9 will soon get a "do not track" tool. Mozilla recently scrapped its currrent version of such a tool, under pressure from advertisers.
Microsoft might have just won back a few Mozilla users

In a surprising juxtaposition, Microsoft is the one defending users from overzealous corporate interests, while open source project Mozilla bows to those same interests.  

The item in question is the so-called "Do Not Track" tool, explored by bother companies.  Typically, the online world is driven by advertising -- either independent, or via a service (typically Google).  But traditional ads are only modest moneymakers.  After all, there's little guarantee that the user will click, or that they be interested in buying what they accidentally or intentionally clicked on.

In an effort to make more relevant ads, internet giants like Facebook, Google, and others dump cookies on your computer.  These cookies track your web activities in explicit detail.  And that makes many users uncomfortable, as there's growing concern that the data collected could be abused -- for example by foreign spies, corporate spies, firms investigating individuals for infidelity, by health insurance firms looking to raise rates on customers with fast food addictions, or by malicious users like phishers or spammers to better tailor their attacks.

Hoping to ban internet firms from tracking your online activities, Mozilla devised the so-called "Do Not Track" tool.  But a couple months back -- midway in the Firefox 4 beta testing cycle -- the company removed the tool, caving to pressure from advertisers who were concerned that it might hurt their revenue.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mozilla is working to return the tool in some form to the browser, prospects of a true no-tracking solution seem unlikely.

Thus it might surprise some that follow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's call for more browsers to implement this kind of feature, that Microsoft has taken up the banner of blocking tracking.  The company announced that it would be adding a new feature called "Tracking Protection" to its upcoming browser, Internet Explorer 9.

Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen writes:

By designing these sorts of enhancements with privacy in mind at the design phase, we're able to deliver a functionality that provides consumers additional levels of control over what they want to engage in and how they choose to do so.

We believe that the combination of consumer control, an open platform for publishing and Tracking Protection Lists, including lists that allow 'calls,' offer progress and a good balance between empowering consumers and online industry needs.

So why is Microsoft suddenly becoming the champion of privacy?  The answer lies in revenue and consumer sentiment.

Though Internet Explorer 8 did add a private browsing mode earlier than Mozilla, IE long lagged behind Mozilla in terms of ad-blocking and other privacy technologies.  This was largely because, in browsing's early days, consumers didn't have as negative perceptions about the nascent web-ad industry.

Microsoft as a larger company than most can be a bit slow at responding to trends.  So when public sentiment shifted against online tracking, it took a while to respond.

But ultimately many experts say that Microsoft can say "no" to advertising companies much easier than Mozilla or Google (the second and third place browser makers) can.  That's because ad income is a relatively trivial portion of Microsoft's overall revenue, where it is the primary source of Mozilla and Google's revenue.

In embracing anti-tracking measures, Microsoft may finally have figured out a clever business tactic to win back some who abandoned IE for Mozilla Firefox.  With IE 9 shaping up to finally be somewhat fast and standards proficient, Microsoft makes a compelling case to ditch the third parties and return to the fold.  

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