Yesterday morning I read an article in The New York Times that described “How to Muddy Your Tracks on the Internet.” The article gives consumers some suggestions for addressing the complicated problem of managing the information left by one’s activities online. This information has many diverse components – website visits, searches, instant messages, e-mails, social-network postings, and so on – indicating personal organizational management, technology solutions, and continued attention at industry and government levels will be important for the foreseeable future.
At Microsoft, we embrace the concept of “privacy by design.” This includes building meaningful choices into our products and services to help consumers protect their privacy and limit their online information. With Internet Explorer 9 Tracking Protection Lists, customers can choose which third-party sites can receive their information and track them online. IE 9 also features In Private Browsing, a function that helps prevent web-browsing activity being retained by the browser. The Microsoft Personal Data Dashboard Beta gives consumers greater visibility and control of their Bing search history, as well as the ability to opt-out of personalized ads. And, Microsoft Hotmail does not scan the contents of customer e-mails to serve ads.
While all of these tools can greatly enhance individual privacy, a comprehensive solution to managing one’s online information doesn’t exist; the Internet is composed of many products and services from many different organizations. And, studies show that when faced with a decision, people frequently choose convenience over privacy. Granted, choices are often confusing, and organizations can continuously improve their privacy communications to better enable consumers to make informed decisions.
To continue moving forward, we think the time is ripe for a discussion about new ways for organizations to manage consumer information. One possibility is a privacy model that creates obligations for organizations as to how they use personal data. To learn more about our thinking, download this short paper. We also encourage you to join Microsoft’s Online Safety twitter handle, which regularly provides information on ways to stay safer online.