IE9's 'Do Not Track' features could become Web standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C,) the standards body responsible for HTML5, accepted and published Microsoft's member submission for standardized privacy features on Thursday.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission endorsed a framework for consumer privacy which suggested a persistent browser setting to protect users from services that collect and harvest browser data without users knowing about it.

Subsequently, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google all responded to the proposal, saying they planned to add "do not track" functionality to their respective browsers. Microsoft was the first out of the gate with the feature active in Internet Explorer 9, and it submitted its technologies for user privacy to the W3C for standardization.

The W3C said Microsoft's submission was "both timely and well-aligned with the consortium's objectives and priorities," given the interest in privacy expressed by the FTC, EU, and public at large.

Microsoft submitted two different privacy mechanisms to W3C, a filter list that blocks the download of third-party content through scripts and iframes and such, and a global "Do Not Track" user preference.

Microsof's submission describes the two features in the following manner:

The filter list contains parts of third-party URIs that a browser may access automatically when referenced within a web page that a user deliberately visits. Rules in a filter list may change the way the user agent handles third-party content. By limiting the calls to these websites and blocking resources from other web pages, the filter list limits the information other sites can collect about a user.

The Do Not Track user preference is a setting maintained by the user agent. It can be read by a webserver or client JavaScript. A webserver that respects theDo Not Track user preference will read this value and will not track the user when this setting is enabled.

The Do Not Track preference would apply to all Web documents, and be expressed in both an HTTP header and a DOM property (document.navigator.doNotTrack).

"The proposal with the W3C is a significant step toward enabling an industry standard way for Web sites to detect when consumers express their intent not to be tracked, and help protect themselves from sites that do not respect that intent," Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President for Internet Explorer said today. "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."

An official announcement about work on the standard will come in early March, and W3C staff will be holding a workshop at Princeton University on April 28 and 29 to lay the foundation for work on this standard.

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