Microsoft Web Privacy Clears W3C Hurdle

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has accepted and published Microsoft's proposal for a standard protecting consumer privacy. Acceptance by W3C--the governing body responsible for HTML5--is a significant hurdle for Microsoft as it works to give users more control over their own online privacy and the tools necessary to block unwanted Web tracking.

Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President, Internet Explorer, acknowledges that online privacy is a high priority for consumers and governments around the world. Microsoft recently introduced Tracking Protection with the release candidate (RC) for Internet Explorer 9 (IE9)--which allows users to opt-out of online tracking, and block the content that does the tracking.

Microsoft is driving a privacy protection solution that includes the Tracking Protection built in to IE9.
Hachamovitch says, "Microsoft's privacy submission to the W3C ensures that Tracking Protection is fully interoperable and can be used universally. Microsoft believes that all customers should have the opportunity to control their online experience."

A post on Microsoft's IEBlog recognizes the value of the HTTP header approach for notifying compliant sites of a user's preferences, but adds, "Enabling consumers merely to express their intent to not be tracked is just not sufficient. It's a subset of what effective tracking protection should do. IE9's Tracking Protection also enables consumers to block the content that does the tracking."

The approach seems to combine the tracking lists approach originally included in IE9 by Microsoft with some variation of the HTTP header do-not-track solution proposed by Mozilla and supported by the FTC--which originated the push for a universal do-not-track solution in the first place.

Ashkan Soltani, a researcher and consultant focused on privacy, security, and behavioral economics, commented, "I think it's a great move and demonstrates recognition by Microsoft that for this to work, you want both technology and policy to work in tandem."

Soltani explains, "You want technical mechanisms like the IE9 Tracking Protection Lists that attempt to provide some level of protections for consumers. However there will always be ways to circumvent these mechanisms, much like we've seen with Flash cookies, CSS history, or DNS masquerading (the tracking 'arms race' so to speak). This is where the header will hopefully come in and provide a reliable signal from consumers about tracking which hopefully regulatory groups can then act on."

Christopher Soghoian, Graduate Fellow, Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, Indiana University, notes the simple irony of the hybrid approach. "It is very interesting that Microsoft has now embraced the HTTP Header that Mozilla pioneered."

Regardless of the browser wars aspect of the competing solutions, there seems to be consensus on the problem itself. For Microsoft, having the W3C on its side will go a long way toward developing a standard approach that can be embraced on a broader scale.

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