This morning the IE team announced a new set of functionality to the upcoming Release Candidate of IE9, Tracking Protection and Tracking Protection Lists. In short, Tracking Protection offers users (and very interesting that the IE team blog chose to use the term “consumers” instead of “users”) a set of advancements in the way that IE9 will handle tracking. From the IE Team blog post:
Today, consumers share information with more websites than the ones they see in the address bar in their browser. This is inherent in the design of the web and simply how the web works, and it has potentially unintended consequences. As consumers visit one site, many other sites receive information about their activities (you can read more details here). This situation results from how modern websites are built; typically a website today might bring together content from many other websites, leaving the impression that the website appears to be its own entity. When the browser calls any other website to request anything (an image, a cookie, HTML, a script that can execute), the browser explicitly provides information in order to get information. By limiting data requests to these sites, it is possible to limit the data available to these sites for collection and tracking.
Certainly there are serious and legitimate privacy concerns inherent in any use of the modern internet, and Tracking Protection can be used to mitigate these concerns. It can also be used, however, as an effective ad blocking tool, something that both Chrome and Firefox offer through plugins.
As the IE Team blog post recognizes, a common use tracking occurs with ads. Again, from the post:
One potential downside is that some web site publishers and developers already have concerns with large numbers of visitors blocking some of the content today (usually ads). We understand this concern and have provided several ways to deal with this issue.
First, this functionality is opt-in, and by default consumers’ experience will remain the same as it is today, unless they make a decision to change it. Second, any site can make available a Tracking Protection List that creates exceptions (via “OK to Call” items) for external content that provides the full experience of the site. This TPL provides transparency to the consumer about the additional sites he will visit and share information with. Third, a site can pull external content into its own domain, so that a consumer has no need to call external sites. Lastly, networks of sites and associations can work together to create a TPL that they recommend broadly to consumers. We designed the feature so that there are ample opportunities for all the constituencies to engage in a manner consistent with their priorities and point of view.
As you can see from the link in the blockquote above, Microsoft seems to be a bit jealous of the 100 million downloads of AdBlock Plus for Firefox. At the same time, however, Microsoft runs its own Advertising platform, who are understandably a bit defensive about this new technology, which make no mistake, is largely an ad blocker. An opt-in ad blocker, one that isn’t advertised as such, and one with a number of partial opt-outs, but first and foremost (regardless of the spin), an ad blocker.
Microsoft proposes that “networks of sites… can work together to create a TPL” that would allow ads, but of course it’s just as feasible (and probably quite a bit more likely) that a TPL will be created to effectively shut off ads from major advertising platforms, which will work cross session and across any number of websites, with a single opt-in click.
We’re of course aware that many users don’t like ads, and to be honest we’re not all that thrilled with them ourselves (but we’re less thrilled with the prospect of funding this website out of our pockets, which is why we offer advertising on LiveSide). This isn’t a diatribe against ad blockers, but simply a recognition that Tracking Protection and Tracking Protection Lists will offer a simple, complete, and effective way for IE9 users to block ads.