IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

Summary: Microsoft has just launched a remarkably effective tool to protect your privacy on the web. Using the IE9 RC, it takes exactly two clicks to begin blocking cookies, web beacons, and other third-party tools that track your movements and activities on the web. Here's how it works.

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TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft
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The more closely I look at the new Tracking Protection feature in Internet Explorer 9, the more astonished I am that it came from one of the world’s largest corporations.

If Internet Explorer 9 becomes widely adopted and if Tracking Protection is widely used—and those are two tricky assumptions—it has the potential to seriously disrupt the online advertising business. Microsoft made this feature widely available last week in the Release Candidate build of IE9 (if you missed it, here's my review of the IE9 RC). Using the RC, it takes exactly two clicks to download a Tracking Protection List (TPL) and begin blocking third-party cookies, tracking pixels, web beacons, hit counters, analytics scripts, and other tools of the modern web designed to assemble a profile of your movements and activities on the web.

Oh, and it blocks ads, too.

In this post, the first in a series, I’ll show how Tracking Protection works. I’ve also put together a screenshot gallery that shows the entire sequence of actions and includes some tips on how to manage Tracking Protection Lists.

Screenshot gallery: Using Tracking Protection Lists in IE9

Part 2: Privacy protection and IE9: who can you trust?

The underlying idea behind Tracking Protection isn’t new. Third-party tools and extensions have been adding similar privacy-protecting features to web browsers for a long time, usually in the form of a browser extension, add-on, or plug-in. Adding this feature into the browser itself, however, as Microsoft has done, is a first.

Here’s how Microsoft’s solution works:

1. Someone—anyone—creates a list of domains and substrings that they want to block (or allow) as third-party content on a web page.

2. The author formats that list using Microsoft’s Tracking Protection List specification and posts it on the web.

3. Someone—anyone—creates a link to the URI for that list, using a short snippet of JavaScript. The link does not have to be on the same web server where the TPL itself is hosted.

4. An IE9 user clicks that link, which brings up a dialog box like this one:

5. The IE9 user clicks Add List, which copies the formatted file to a system folder and configures IE to   immediately begin using the rules contained on that list.

From that point on, IE9 checks the TPL before sending an HTTP request to a third-party site. Here’s a simplified example, with a page that includes an advertisement and a tracking pixel from two third-party sites.

Because xyz-ads.com is on the Block list, no request is sent to its server and the space where the ad should go remains blank. But abc-analytics is on an Allow list, so that request goes through. XYZ Ads is out of luck. It didn’t get to serve an ad, and it didn’t gather any information from the visitor. ABC Analytics, on the other hand, gets its tracking database updated.

Here are a few other facts worth knowing about Tracking Protection:

  • TPLs affect third-party content only and are ignored for direct requests. If example.com is on a Block list, IE9 will reject any third-party requests to that domain but will serve up the page normally if you go to a page that is hosted directly on the example.com domain.
  • You can install multiple Tracking Protection lists and enable or disable any list at any time. You can also remove a list.
  • From the Manage Add-ons dialog box in IE9, you can inspect the contents of any Tracking Protection List and copy it to a text file.
  • TPLs include an auto-update mechanism. The default update period is 7 days, but a list publisher can set this value to any interval between 1 and 30 days.
  • If you have multiple lists, IE9 uses a hierarchy to resolve conflicts. Allow rules trump Block rules. Thus, if the same domain or substring is on one list with a Block entry and another with an Allow entry, third-party content from that domain will be allowed.
  • If you use a Personalized Filtering List in Manual mode, its settings override any entry on a TPL.

Currently, five TPLs from four organizations are available for IE9 users (I expect this number to rise as more groups discover its possibilities). I’ve taken a close look at all five of these lists, For the surprising details, see Part 2: Privacy protection and IE9: who can you trust?.

Topics: Browser, Microsoft

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  • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

    EasyList is already delivering all of their lists as TPL. Yes, including the adblocking ones. PrivacyChoice is also offering their list with or without ad blocking.

    Most serious providers, such as TRUSTe are also unlikely to add any filtering against advertising.

    However, I doubt this will oppose any serious threat to online advertising, as it requires user interaction, and IE7Pro, Simple-Adblock, Adblock Pro or even InPrivate allowed easy adblocking for quite some time.
    ChrisTX4
    • Yes, I know

      @ChrisTX4

      If you look at the screen shots you will see I have installed all of those available lists. Details in next installment.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @Ed Bott HTML5 support in IE9 scores 116 vs. 207 for Safari 5.0; 244 for Chrome 10. See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/14/ie_9_release_candidate_review/
        BioNerd
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        I mentioned this in another thread...

        Why would AdBlock Plus do this? Why would they potentially pay a M$ tax in order to use it in IE9?

        And why would M$ allow something that would potentially block their own ads? Like here on zdnet?

        Remember that "tracking protection" is not the same as "visual ad blocking".
        LTV10
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @Ed Bott
        Screen shots? I don't see any screen shots in the article.
        jreuter
      • It really doesn't matter...

        @Ed Bott

        It really doesn't matter... An allow trumps a block... So tracking companies just need to get one? allow? in one of the lists out there and it is back to business as usual.

        It doesn't make our lives easier and therefore doesn't make our lives better. It's just another layer of complication that can lead to further issues down the road. Apple gets it, Microsoft doesn't.
        i8thecat
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @Ed Bott

        I was referring to EasyList's actual anti-advertisement lists.
        They didn't advertise them so far, but it's easy to find them, ie.
        http://easylist-msie.adblockplus.org/easylist.tpl
        http://easylist-msie.adblockplus.org/easylistgermany.tpl
        I suppose once IE9 is actually released we might see more here.

        @BioNerd
        HTML5Test is made by retards. On their suite, WebSockets - which is an early draft, still, and very unstable - and W3C Geolocation - which is a CR - are valued the same. In fact, WebSockets in Chrome/Opera/etc are all targeting the 00 draft which is superseded 5 times already!

        Supporting constantly changing drafts does not enhance user experience. However, Microsoft is supporting IndexedDB and WebSockets with their plugins @ HTML5Labs.

        @ techvet
        Simple-Adblock is better than AdBlock Pro or IE7Pro, but also commercial. They offer a free edition that can block up to 160 ads/day though.
        However, TPLs - especially with using EasyList's full set - can work the exact same way as AdBlock Plus does.

        @jreuter
        There's a gallery link.

        @LTV10
        It can work as such, and does visually block ads. ABP also does not pay some tax, or whatever.
        And stylizing Microsoft as 'M$' makes you come across as a border line retard. So does the 'M$ tax' phrase, by the way.
        ChrisTX4
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @LTV10

        No tax - Microsoft licenses Tracking Protection under a Creative Commons "Attribution" license. You can even sell the lists and still not have to pay them a cent.
        1DaveN
      • Message has been deleted.

        LTV10
      • They're not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts

        @DaveN_MVP

        Given M$ is all about money, I believe there's some kind of kickback given to them on the back-end, somewhere. They have no reason to offer this to anybody unless there's something in it for them.

        It would also be the equivalent of Google blocking their own ads or Google Analytics with Chrome. Do you really think something like this would happen?
        LTV10
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @jreuter and @ChrisTX4

        Follow the link to the Gallery. I'm not sure I could have made the link text any bigger. ;)
        Ed Bott
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        And you're still an a$$hole @ChrisTX4

        Don't ever tell me what I can or can't say around here.

        You f'ucking prick.
        LTV10
    • Looking for objective comparions among ad-blockers

      @ChrisTX4 IE7Pro flunked my testing years ago, especially when it tried to add some invasive software; Adblock Pro costs money; I haven't tried Simple-Adblock yet. I would like to see an objective comparison between AdBlock Plus and anything on the IE side. I have said for years that *one* of the reasons (but not the only one) that I wouldn't use IE as my primary browser was because there were no good ad-blockers. I'll try out Simple-Adblock sometime, but AdBlock Plus on Firefox is the standard to which all of these will be held up.
      techvet
    • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

      @LTV10 I guess I can't stop you from believing whatever you want, true or not.

      http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2010/12/07/ie9-and-privacy-introducing-tracking-protection-v8.aspx
      1DaveN
  • Perhaps one of M$'$ major competitors is in the online ad business?

    NT
    jacksonjohn
    • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

      @johnfenjackson@...
      Microsoft actually happens to own an online ads business.
      illegaloperation
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @day2die - which means they are bound to put in backdoors for themselves.
        HypnoToad72
      • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

        @day2die
        Microsoft has their office and windows business to fall back on. What does Google have to fall back on? They can afford to sacrifice their online ads business for awhile if they need to.
        PolymorphicNinja
    • My thought a well

      @johnfenjackson@...

      When your Google just copies others IP and gives it away to weaken Google's competition, turn about is fair play.
      Bruizer
  • RE: IE9 and Tracking Protection: Microsoft disrupts the online ad business

    Online advertising has gotten out of hand since the advent of high speed internet. I for one am glad others are fighting back. <br><br>I hope to see more from Easy List.


    EDIT: While I love this feature, I'm kinda upset that there isn't an option to individually block an object by selecting an option after right clicking on it, and no easy way to add a domain to an exisitng list.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion