This Week in Privacy


In the last ten years Microsoft has invested heavily in user privacy. Just like security, privacy considerations are baked into every Microsoft product. It is almost a year since the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web, accepted and published Microsoft’s member submission for an Internet Standard to help protect consumer privacy. Last September I described how the W3C had announced the creation of a Tracking Protection Working Group that would bring together a broad set of stakeholders from across the industry to work on standards for “Do Not Track” technology and the group has been hard at work since then.

This week there are three important events related to online privacy:

These forums bring together opinion leaders and stakeholders from academia, industry, and government to discuss information technology, privacy, and data protection.

W3C’s Third Face-to-face Meeting of the Tracking Protection Working Group

The W3C Tracking Protection working group is chartered to produce three deliverables:

  • Tracking Preference Expression Definitions and Compliance
    When a large group of experts is brought together from across industry and government it is essential that they agree on terminology to prevent misunderstandings where people think they agree or disagree when in fact they don’t. The First Public Working Draft (FPWD) of this document was published in November and this week the group will discuss the changes made to the Editor’s Draft since then. The document highlights the large number of open issues that the group is working on.
  • Tracking Preference Expression (Do Not Track)
    The second document is a technical specification that defines the mechanisms to be used by browsers and other applications in order to signal user preferences not to be tracked online. Today, Internet Explorer 9 sends this “DNT” signal when you enable a Tracking Protection List. The FPWD of this document was also published in November and again the group will discuss the latest Editor’s Draft this week. Sending the DNT signal relies on Web sites to correctly recognize and obey the user’s request to not be tracked. At the present time, few Web sites take any action when they receive the signal.
  • Tracking Selection Lists
    The third deliverable for the Tracking Protection working group is a specification defining an interoperable format for Tracking Selection Lists. Tracking Selection Lists define rules that browsers can use to allow or block tracking elements on Web pages. A number of browsers today support this kind of list, either directly or via add-ins. In Internet Explorer, these lists are called Tracking Protection Lists (or TPLs). Internet Explorer 9 provides built-in support for TPLs specifically designed to help users control how they are tracked on the Web.

    A Web standard that defines the format of these lists will encourage a rich ecosystem of list providers that can work with any browser that chooses to support this feature. The working group hasn’t yet published a FPWD for Tracking Selection Lists but will discuss the Editor’s Draft written by participants from Microsoft and Opera in the meeting this morning.

Tracking Selection Lists are designed to complement the DNT signal, which will take some time to be effective. Inevitably, not all sites will respect the DNT user preference and Tracking Selection Lists will provide consumers an additional control to avoid being tracked by those sites. When a Tracking Selection List is enabled, the browser will avoid contacting the listed sites. You can read more about IE9’s Tracking Protection from previous blog posts.

Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference

I am looking forward to participating in the Tracking Protection Workshop at the CPDP Conference tomorrow afternoon. Simon Davies, a Research Fellow at LSE and Director of Privacy International, and Alexander Hanff, who heads up Privacy International’s Digital Privacy portfolio, host a panel exploring the dynamics of Tracking Protection Lists. This should be an engaging session and I’m keen to listen to the questions and comments from all involved.

What’s Next?

The W3C working group has an aggressive timetable to make progress in the coming months, to tease out the consensus from the different groups involved, and to move the specification documents through the W3C process. You can follow the progress through the group’s mailing list archive. I plan to provide further updates on IEBlog. The minutes from this week’s meeting will be published on the group’s home page.

—Adrian Bateman, Program Manager, Internet Explorer

Comments (15)

  1. Marshall says:

    Does this mean that IE10 will actually support free and open HTML5 audio and video? – because currently that is all developers care about.  IE is falling behind again.

  2. ZippyV says:

    IE9 already supports HTML5 audio and video according to the official spec.

  3. @Marshall says:

    I think you'll find that theres a lot more to life than just "open" audio and video =p

  4. Hey says:

    All you foss advocates! IE will not support OGG, WebM and any other *non-standardized* "foss formats", so please stop your childish endless rant, you are just making yourself seem foolish.

  5. Harry Richter says:

    @ IEBlog

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    Again this blog has been misused by a small but vociferous group of blog-trolls. Already the first entry by someone who calls himself “Marshall” is off-topic and irrelevant.

    Most of these rants are about audio- and video-codecs, a question that has already been answered thoroughly in this blog.

    The IEBlog has a very important function of giving insight into the development process of new versions of IE, the reasoning behind decisions that have been made and quite often code samples to achieve the best results in our own developing. The ensuing discussion can lead to clarifications and corrections of errors, both in your post and the perception of the readers. It is a valuable part of this blog.

    However the IEBlog is becoming more and more useless to read (the comment section) because it is misused by the above mentioned group of blog-trolls that believe that the repetition of wrong perceptions makes them correct. The tone of these comments leads me to believe that they are part of the unholy fundamentalist anti-Microsoft Taliban.

    In the interest of the developer community that wants to exchange information on and discuss the topics on hand I would like to ask you to create a collection of off-topic comments that can be accessed separately from the on topic comments. To this new collection would you kindly move all posts that do not discuss your post but other and most often irrelevant topics not at all related to the issue on hand!

    It may well be that such a feat would lose you a small number of trolls, but that would be easily compensated by the many developers that have turned the back to your blog because of the lax moderation of this blog who would immediately return if the IEBlog became the valuable resource it once was.

    Warm regards,

    Harry Richter

  6. Sunil says:

    @IEBlog I agree with Harry this is necessary to remove off topic comments

  7. ieblog says:

    Thank you for expressing your desire that comments remain on-topic. We prefer that, too. However, efforts in the past to delete off-topic comments have only resulted in an increased number of those comments.

    We will maintain the current policy of only deleting spam, duplicates, and comments that contain profane, racist, or otherwise offensive language.

  8. Eduardo Valencia says:

    Give us the release date of IE10 beta for windows 7 PC's!

    Let IE shine once again!

  9. Josh says:

    @Harry Richter – while I appreciate your concern with blog topics going off course you seem to have over simplified the situation.

    You suggest that Microsoft has addressed the HTML5 Audio topic already. This is not correct.

    Microsoft has remained absolutely silent on the HTML5 Audio topic, lack of Ogg Vorbis support, and the issues surrounding using mp3 audio tracks that require licensing fees to use in HTML5 Games.

    Microsoft has come forward publicly on multiple occasions and said that they want developers to be able to use the same markup for all browsers (praised by developers for this view! [1]) but unfortunately by not supporting open standards they have fallen through on this item.

    I'm sure that the developers with concerns over this issue would be quite satisfied if Microsoft actually published a post on the topic where the legalities could be fully clarified and comments could be posted on-topic.

    The other topic of late is HTML5 Video, specifically IE's stance on only supporting patent encumbered h.264 video natively.  In this case there was a post about the issue [2] where Microsoft deflected back at the browser/video codec/patent holders community at large to provide a full solution.  While I fully agree the current status on WebM being fully "free" and/or "open" may not be 100% clear – what was clear was that Microsoft was not going to be the first to extend an olive branch or take the lead in supporting better video options. (Classic Microsoft)  There were 233 comments on that post (see footnotes) – this is hardly a minor topic, and it is hardly close to a satisfactory conclusion.

    Quote: "they are part of the unholy fundamentalist anti-Microsoft Taliban" – woah there! can you try and censor yourself a bit there?  I don't think having an opinion that is contrary to "Microsoft's Corporate Business Domination Plan" is exactly in the same realm as "unholy fundamentalist {terrorists}"

    Now, the IE Blog represents the **ONLY** communication channel that most developers (and end users) have with Microsoft/The Internet Explorer developer team.  As a result there will be disagreements, arguments, rants and heated conversations on this blog.  As developers we spend 8-16 hours a day developing for the Web and supporting IE accounts for a massive amount of that time… thus our frustrations when we see/read/hear that Microsoft is doing **anything** that steers off the path of open standards and the open web we get **seriously** concerned.  When IE10 is released… we developers may need to support it for up to and exceeding 10 (TEN!) years!  Every minor glitch, bug, missing implementation, or deviation from open standards will cause us hours, days, weeks, months and even years of future frustration and hair pulling.

    Please understand that we (and I'm speaking loosely for all commenters) just want to ensure we have an opportunity to express our views.  We may not be heard and our wishes may be completely ignored, but at least let us have the satisfaction 2-5 years down the road of being able to know that we publicly addressed the issues that MSFT/IE is only fixing now.

    It took years and years of complaints for Microsoft to fix things like PNG Alpha, HTMLSelect z-Index, CSS opacity, CSS border-radius, SVG, Canvas, getElementById, innerHTML, setAttribute, addEventListener, etc. as frustrating as it might be this is the only communication forum where Microsoft gets a *real* understanding of how developers feel about IE and it's progress (or lack of).

    Finally the other main ongoing rants I've seen on this blog are about 2 remaining issues.  #1 is that the comment form on this blog is horribly broken. We don't want to keep ranting about it, please just fix it once and for all.  #2 is that blog posts get auto-locked from comments after a short period of time… as a result comments often flow from one post to the next because they can't continue on the related thread.  These are 2 things that Microsoft can do **TODAY** to fix the IE Blog and make it more usable for everyone.

    Thanks,

    Josh

    [1] The irony is that 95% of the hacks performed today are to overcome specific IE issues or missing standards support.

    [2] blogs.msdn.com/…/html5-video.aspx Quote: "We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video only." – way to stay open minded Microsoft! way to express your support for open standards! way to keep your options open vs. getting vendor lock-in to a specific video format!

  10. Ralph says:

    IE should make headway and allow detection and user selected blocking of web content (1 pixel images, empty CSS files, javascript files that only server to load a tracking pixel, etc.,).  Preventing those requests at the HTTP level would help greatly especially in reduced bandwidth mobile and limited CPU platforms.  

  11. Sean says:

    @ralph blocking some of those things by default would be bad.  Many analytical tools use these pixels to log stats about site access and usage.

    You may not want to be tracked but the info collected helps developers determine how their sites and apps are used so they can improve them.

  12. @josh

    Microsoft has made it clear they will support h.264, mp3 and AAC.

    That is clear enough. And everybody in the world has been using mp3 and h.264 support on their computers for many years now.

    It is not going to change unless a major improvement in video compression comes along.

  13. Alan says:

    @A_Zune Microsoft did state they would only natively support 1 (patent encumbered) video format and 2 (patent /& license encumbered) audio formats – that is correct.  What "we" (the Web Developer community at large) are asking is when Microsoft is going to support free and open formats… specifically ones that are not encumbered with patent issues and even more so are not subject to licensing issues (mp3 I'm looking at you!) that will cause us to have to pay licensing costs 50x what our ad revenue might be on our sites regardless if our HTML5 games are free or not.

    Microsoft has been approached by developers big and small regarding this and has been (especially on the audio front) extremely quiet in terms of making a statement that they intend to natively support a free and open format for both video and audio.

    I realize they felt this was buying them some time and that developers would start taking IE9/IE10 seriously as a platform – but until a statement is made that they intend to support a free and open format – developers are NOT interested in developing for IE, in fact because there has been silence many (including me) have already given up.  IE users visiting my sites are presented with links to download a better browser.  I'd let the users in and give them a sub-par experience but that helps no one.

    As soon as MSFT publicly makes a statement that they intend to support a free and open audio/video format for HTML5 (just like the rest of the free and open web) then I'll gladly wait and provide IE support the day Microsoft releases a capable version of their browser.  Unfortunately with IE10 well into development and not a single word from Dean Hachamovitch indicating that MSFT intends to create a future proof platform NO developers will be interested.

    In fact I was at a dev conference in Toronto a while back… MS had a booth there… no one cared… even with the offer of a free device for making win phone apps.  Any dev that approached asked the same questions….  will the browser support Ogg? will it support WebM?… will it support any free and open Audio or Video format?… (MSFT:no not currently) -> Developers:Sorry not interested – Goodbye!

    There was probably $1,000's spent on PR for that… and by having reps there tell the truth… they actually lost developers.

  14. @Alan

    The only known video format that is guaranteed to be not patent  encumbered is MPEG I

    However it would cost 10 times to 100 times more to support that format thant to pay royalties for h.264.

    I hope noone ever decidecd to support that.

    In fact is is expensive to use any other format than h.264  because weaker compression cost a lot of money and also i very bad for the environment.

    Noone should even consider using inferior formats considering the environmental consequenses alone.

    I would strongly suggest Microsoft make a statement that they will not support any HTML5 video format that has weaker compression than h.264 as not to harm the environment.

  15. melvin says:

    @A_Zune – I agree that the compression is certainly a concern as both bandwidth and storage costs… as well as the underlying electrical/resource costs.  Keep in mind though that the primary concern is the viable future of the platform going forward.  Currently the Web has worked great as it provides a consistent open and free standard upon which to build interoperable networks regardless of device or OS etc.

    Unfortunately Microsoft is not concerned about supporting the future of the Web and open standards – and the world suffers.  Its a tragedy… thank god Microsoft hasn't made it to the mobile/tablet world yet – we don't want them to ruin that too.