For Microsoft, Ads Trumped Privacy

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A Wall Street Journal report today suggests that for Microsoft, customer concerns about privacy came a distant second behind ad revenue when designing browser software Internet Explorer.

When Microsoft initially planned the Internet Explorer 8.0 browser, they intended to offer users functionality that would allow them to avoid being tracked online. By design, the software came with its strictest privacy settings turned on - to lose privacy, the user would have to specifically enable the loss. Such settings were considered to be leading the way in consumer protection - most browsers at the time had few privacy settings and did not protect the consumer. Even today, only one browser, Apple Safari, comes with a pre-setting to block all third party cookies.

But Microsoft executives argued that making privacy the default for users would hamper another source of revenue for the company: selling online ads. Leading the way for the argument was Brian McAndrews, a senior vice president who had worked for aQuantive, a Web-ad firm that Microsoft acquired in 2007. McAndrews has since left the company.

When the browser was finally released in March 2009, not only were the default settings not private, but
when a user turned the privacy setting on, it did not persist, but had to be activated anew every time the browser was opened. The InPrivate Subscriptions feature, which would have helped users conceal their online habits, was dropped from the final release.
Tracking technologies are a hot topic lately. Recently a WSJ investigation of the top 50 U.S. websites found that all but one (WIkipedia) installed tracking software, such as cookies and tracking files on visitors' computers.