Internet Explorer goes private

Microsoft has unveiled Beta 2 of Internet Explorer 8, and this is an important release from a privacy perspective. The new InPrivate tools allow users to surf anonymously, delete their browsing history and restrict adware.

Of course other browsers have offered enhanced privacy features for a while now – for example, Firefox has a host of security and privacy plug-ins – but this is particularly important because of Microsoft’s 76% browser market share (depending upon how you measure it). The majority of Internet users have Explorer, and I suspect that the majority of ‘novice’ users – those who are worst-placed to protect themselves – will use Explorer because it came with their PC.

Critics have of course joked about InPrivate browsing in fact providing a ‘pr0n mode’ for users of shared or corporate machines to access adult content, but the mode is equally useful for accessing online banking where you might not want to leave any residual data on the machine. I’m less convinced by arguments that it can protect users on shared PCs – this is only true if you trust the machine, since it can’t be long before someone ‘skins’ IE7 or IE8 to fool users into thinking they’ve enabled InPrivate browsing when in fact the machine is recording every keystroke and click. However, that’s no different from the current situation for Internet cafes, and if you use them for anything sensitive then you’d be well advised to use a ‘browser on a stick’ such as an IronKey.

But that’s just a minor point here. Microsoft’s enhancements are welcome and timely. I’m upgrading to IE8 (you can do so here) and will continue to use it alongside Safari (my main browser because I’m a Mac user) and Firefox.

(Click through for further details of the new features in IE8)

From Microsoft’s Press Release:

Delete Browsing History offers the ability to delete users browsing history while preserving data on sites they have been saved as favorites. This enhancement significantly increases utility and ability for users to control their data and privacy.

InPrivate™ browsing helps to protect your data and privacy by keeping any data from being retained “locally” by the browser. When a user opens an InPrivate browsing session either through the Safety menu or new tab page, the browser session does not retain your browsing history; no data is stored in either your temporary files or your history. This new feature is designed for users of a shared PC who might be shopping for gifts for family members and desire this added level of privacy or when using a public PC and Internet cafes.

InPrivate blocking, a user controlled option integrated with InPrivate browsing provides notice and ability for users to allow or block third party content providers which might be in a position to track and aggregate their online activity. Today, when a user visits a website, the user has made a decision to view content from that site and is knowingly sharing some information with it. However, that site may also contain content such as advertisements, stock tickers, or weather information which is served by third-party sites and content syndicators. By simply browsing their favorite sites, users can unknowingly share their information and browser profiles with multiple third-party sites. When a user has opened an InPrivate™ browsing session, they concurrently have “ opted-in” to InPrivate blocking, providing users the added control on the visibility and potential usage of the data by others.

InPrivate is a Microsoft trademark.

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Microsoft disappoint? Not surprising I suppose. Mind you this feature is not a bad idea when you think about how much information passes through your web browser. Just see for a scare.