Now Appearing in Your Internet Explorer: A 'Do Not Track' Tool

By Katie Kindelan Comment

Internet users concerned about their online privacy have reason to be happy today with a new privacy tool at their disposal, as long as they know how to use it. In a first for any major Web browser, the just released Internet Explorer 9 from Microsoft Corp. includes a do-not-track tool to help consumers keep their online activity from being monitored.

The move elevates Internet Explorer, the Internet’s most widely used browser, to the first in its class to answer the call for a do-not-track system, just three months after the FTC endorsed such a measure.

More than 60 percent of Americans support the FTC-endorsed do-not-track, but also remain unclear on how, or even if, the feature would work.

The tool, available now, will immediately let users of Internet Explorer 9 block advertisers from tracking their habits online, as long as they are aware of the option and take the extra steps to ‘opt-out.’

Users of the new Internet Explorer model who want to use the do-not-track feature must click on the settings icon (the cog) in the right corner of the browser and select “Safety>Tracking Protection.” A new window will appear where they can then activate the feature. Once enabled, the tracking protection will automatically start blocking sites from monitoring online activity.

Microsoft’s move leaves Google and Apple as the only major providers of browsers that have yet to either endorse the do-not-track system or incorporate the tool in their products. Mozilla Corp. released in February an early-model do-not-track feature in the latest version of its Firefox browser.

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs believes that, due to government regulation and customer demand, “Do Not Track” technology will likely soon be standardized across the Web, calling it “inevitable.”

“It probably doesn’t need to be regulated, but it probably will be,” Kovacs tells The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog. “The thing that will give it teeth is what the user decides.”

The quick adoption of the do-not-track system reflects the growing pressure the advertising and online industries face to provide consumers with an option to protect themselves against online advertising, as lawmakers threaten new regulations and consumer watchdog and privacy groups continue to rally the public.

On the same day as the Internet Explorer release, came the release of “Do Not Track Plus,” a free browser extension that lets users selectively decide which sites they agree to be tracked and which ones to ban.

The extension, from online privacy company Abine, is compatible only with Mozilla’s Firefox browser.

Abine also publishes an advertising block list for Internet Explorer 9.

Employing the standard do-not-track feature on Internet Explorer blocks all tracking, but Microsoft is also offering users a more advanced feature called “tracking protection lists,” which will let people prevent specific Web-tracking companies from monitoring their browsing habits.

To download predefined tracking lists, users can just click on “Add TPL” next to each list they would like to add to their browser.

All appears to be good news for consumers, as long as the advertising and publishing industries follow suit.

As the Wall Street Journal first reported, Internet Explorer’s current do-not-track system requires a buy-in from tracking companies that they will honor consumers’ requests, and, the industry’s lobbying arm, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, says its members do not know how to respond to a do-not-track request.

“There is no context to a do-not-track header, no common definitions, no standard operating procedures for how the thousands or even millions of entities that receive the header might detect or react to such a signal,” said Mike Zaneis, general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, told the paper.