Some more on Tracking Protection

Today IE announced its Tracking Protection technology in a blog post on the IE Team blog.  Along with it came posts from MS Advertising and MS on the Issues, touting the privacy protections, opt-in model, and open specifications of Tracking Protection.  In our post on it this morning, we focused on one part of Tracking Protection that comes hand in hand with other privacy protections, ad blocking.

After we posted we were contacted by a Microsoft spokesperson via email, who said:

Saw your article and want to follow-up to clarify a few things!  Specifically, I know you wrote speculating about whether this is an ad blocker, and just want to clarify it’s not – below is our full statement, but essentially this is more of a filter for users to better control the flow of information to tracking services.

Here’s the statement:

We believe that the convergence of new privacy tools and robust advertising growth can, in fact, co-exist and we are uniquely positioned to provide thought leadership in both areas.  Some users may have more confidence when they go on the internet as a result of increased privacy options that are available to them.  This confidence may in-turn translate into more positive attitudes towards the advertising they are seeing because they are controlling the information that advertisers are receiving and using to deliver the ads.  For people who are not as concerned about sharing their data on the web, the introduction of Tracking Protection will not have any impact on their web surfing habits.

So it isn’t an ad blocker if you don’t turn it on, or if you like ads and allow them, in other words.  For another perspective, let’s turn to a privacy researcher, PhD candidate Christopher Soghoian, who spent a good part of the day with his blog post riding on Techmeme:

If this feature sounds familiar, perhaps it is because Microsoft is essentially building AdBlock Plus into their browser, except that Microsoft itself will not be providing the list of ad networks. It will be up to consumer groups (or perhaps government regulators) to do that themselves.
It is important to note that once a user subscribes to such a list, as with the InPrivate Filtering feature, all 3rd party connections to the servers will be blocked. This means that not only will advertising networks on the list be blocked from tracking users, but IE9 will not even display advertising provided by those firms’ servers.

There are a number of aspects of Tracking Protection that provide potential benefits to users that don’t have anything to do with ad blocking, and indeed TP itself isn’t a turnkey ad blocker, it must be opted into, and configured.  Of course Firefox’s Ad Block Plus has been opted into a hundred million times, so to think that IE9s ad blocking potential won’t be utilized would be naïve.  And as we said earlier, even though we rely on ads to pay our expenses, we’re not necessarily saying that the ad blocking capabilities of Tracking Protection are bad.  Plain and simple, however, among all its other capabilities, we stand by what we said in our original post, that “Tracking Protection and Tracking Protection Lists will offer a simple, complete, and effective way for IE9 users to block ads”.