The next version of the Internet Explorer Web browser will integrate new privacy protocols, giving Web surfers more control over what kinds of cookies to accept, according to a release from Microsoft.
IE 6.0 will use features from the industry-developed Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) specifications. P3P-compliant privacy policies can be read by a browser for ready comparison to a Web surfer's privacy settings. If a site's policy conflicts with a surfer's privacy requirements, IE 6.0 will issue a warning, and possibly block the site altogether.
The new features make the placement of cookies more visible. Cookies are small files sent from a site to mark a browser's entrance. Because Web sites can read cookie files on a surfer's computer, cookies can be used to track movement across sites, and can theoretically be used in conjunction with other information to build a profile of an individual Internet user.
Customers will be able to set privacy preferences on a five-tiered scale. A low privacy level means all cookies are accepted, the default standard for the current version of IE. Intermediate levels will reject or downgrade cookies with missing or poor P3P privacy policies, depending on whether the cookie comes from the site accessed by a browser or a third-party cookie, which comes from an outside source with an agreement with the host site, like an advertiser.
Acceptance at intermediate levels will also depend on whether or not the visitor can opt out of contributing personal information through the cookie. The highest privacy level automatically rejects all cookies.
Microsoft announced the privacy features before releasing the software to give site developers time to adopt P3P policies, according to the news release. Internet Explorer 6 will be available for free download or as part of the Windows XP operating system scheduled to be released this summer.