Online Privacy & Balance – Our Perspective

Posted by Peter Cullen
Chief Privacy Strategist

Any discussion of online privacy today can quickly become polarized and shed more heat than light. It is clear that privacy remains a key topic and also clear the discussion centers on finding the right balance of investments by both companies and the advertising industry that will provide meaningful choice, control and protection for the consumer’s information and that contribute to growing consumer trust and which supports the content to which people have grown accustomed. Privacy by Design is but one investment area receiving a lot of dialogue. Today we announced functionality we intend to provide in IE9 that both advances and demonstrates Privacy by Design and provides consumers with more choices to control information about their online activities. However, the industry together can also continue to contribute additional investments that will help grow trust.

Recent Actions

Last week in Paris, Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International, described Microsoft’s commitment to “Privacy by Design” at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress.  Privacy by Design means different things to different people, and Jean-Philippe’s remarks provide a review of our company’s approach.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, when speaking at Les Assises du Numérique conference, on Nov. 25, said: “The Commission believes that we need further research to enhance the security features of these technologies. And indeed we are funding such research at the European level – which looks at “privacy-by-design” and “privacy-enhancing technologies.” 

On Dec. 1, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a new framework for consumer privacy. The FTC has also embraced Privacy by Design as the first principle in its framework. The FTC stated that “Companies should promote consumer privacy throughout their organizations and at every stage of the development of their products and services.”

We applaud all the efforts to consider this meaningful topic and look forward to continuing our dialogue with all parties.

The FTC recognized the positive steps that major browser vendors have taken to improve consumer choice regarding online tracking. However, under its proposed framework, the FTC discusses a particular way to promote consumer privacy in the context of third party behavioral advertising and supports a universal choice mechanism known as “do not track” for this activity. There are many different views on how best to offer consumers the ability to control their online information and on how any “do not track” option might be designed. And the FTC has solicited feedback on a number of important questions related to this topic. We look forward to participating in the ongoing dialogue on this topic with others in the industry, and hope that our announcement today about new features in IE9 will help drive forward the continued thoughtful dialogue between all interested parties on this topic. We are hopeful that our efforts and those of others in the industry will further support transparency and consumer choice, while continuing to support a robust and vibrant Internet which serves consumers, advertisers and publisher interests in continued development of information and content.

In his post today on the Internet Explorer blog, Dean Hachamovitch announced that we intend to deliver a set of functionality in a release candidate of IE9 that enables consumers to choose to limit the amount of data they wish to share with websites. This extends our earlier architectural strategy and builds on a prior version of a technical method built into IE8.

The new functionality, named “Tracking Protection,” will help limit the potential for Internet tracking for users who choose to enable it. By designing these sorts of enhancements with privacy in mind at the design phase, we’re able to the deliver a functionality that provides consumers additional levels of control over what they want to engage in and how they choose to do so. A key change, as Dean notes, is that IE 9 is more of a “platform,” one where consumers make choices based on trust with websites they engage in. We believe that the combination of consumer control, an open platform for publishing of Tracking Protection Lists, including lists that allow “calls,” offer progress and a good balance between empowering consumers and online industry needs. I encourage you to read Dean’s post to learn more.

The Past & The Future

At the launch of IE8 in 2008, we continued dialogue and engaged with industry, agreeing that work was required to develop common approaches and share best practices that all responsible parties should abide by to provide more transparency and control to consumers regarding their online information. There was clear agreement that this was a necessary investment to grow the trust of consumers and to ensure a viable online advertising industry could thrive and continue to deliver value to all stakeholders.

Since that time, industry, of which Microsoft is part, has worked to increase the transparency of information to consumers, and many companies have increased the choice and control mechanisms available. With the increasing focus on this important topic, now is the ideal time to make additional progress. We need to get clear on a shared definition of “tracking” and get to a common understanding of how consumers should be empowered to manage their online information in the manner in which they see fit. This could include beginning to conceptualize how lists might be developed – not just “block” lists but, just as importantly, “allow” lists – to help consumers have an even more trusted Web experience.

Today’s announcement puts forth a new option to consider for browsers and invites discussion on a number of questions related to it, including those put forth in the FTC report. We welcome that discussion. We also look forward to continuing our work with stakeholders to make online advertising and the overall Web experience for consumers more trustworthy; a system that is, ideally, Trust by Design.

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Microsoft News Center Staff