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Internet Explorer 8 “might” block web advertising?

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A post on the Microsoft Developer’s Blog yesterday outlining some new privacy features in the upcoming Internet Explorer 8 that has consumers rejoicing, and webmasters everywhere reaching for their tinfoil hats.

IE8 is slated to include a private web surfing mode, known as “InPrivate.”  When InPrivate is activated, several behaviors of the browser change: cookies are held only temporarily for the browsing session, browsing history isn’t recorded, auto-fill form information and passwords on not recorded, and so on.  The idea is that once you close your browser, not a trace of your browsing session is saved anywhere – a great idea if for example you wanted to check your bank statement at a public terminal.  (Interestingly enough, this is feature the Safari browser has had for years now.)

Microsoft does take it a step further with “InPrivate Blocking” – and this is where the controversy begins.  InPrivate Blocking is intended to prevent the planting of cookies on your machine that tracks your behavior across several domains.  It also has the ability to give fine-grained control to block tracking pixels, and analytics scripts.  All great ideas on the surface, to protect end user’s privacy… because let’s face it, those techniques are almost exclusively used by on-line advertisers in order to track and target advertising to web users.  By breaking some of these systems advertisers rely on, advertisements may not be delivered correctly or at all in certain circumstances.  (Also not an entirely new idea, as AdBlock & AdBlock Plus has been offering similar functionality to FireFox users for years.)

This gets interesting though when we consider Internet Explorer’s overwhelming market share, and Microsoft’s desire to better position themselves in the on-line advertising marketplace.  As I think back to all the anti-trust lawsuits and predatory business practices over the years, I can’t help but wonder – are they really out to provide security & privacy for their user base, or is there something more sinister cooking up?  Distributing these new features on such a wide scale might throw a wrench into analytics tracking all over the web, and may seriously damage how advertising is delivered by many of the big players on the Web… just in time for Microsoft to push their new advertising services… (you don’t think IE8 will block Microsoft’s own advertising, do you?)