In the last several weeks, two new Web browsers were announced. Microsoft on August 27, 2008 released Internet Explorer 8, beta 2. On September 2, 2008, Google released its new beta Web browser, Google Chrome. Both browsers provide new tools that permit consumers to choose how information about their online activity is collected, stored, or shared.

IE 8, beta 2

Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer (“IE 8”) permits consumers to browse the Internet without leaving “any trace of specific web browsing activity.” The suite of features provided in IE 8 limit browsing history, temporary Internet files, form data, cookies, and usernames and passwords from being retained by the browser. IE 8 include the following features:

  • Delete Browsing History – this feature allows a user to delete browsing history while preserving data (e.g. cookies and temporary Internet files) and preferences on web sites that have been saved in the user’s favorites.
  • InPrivate browsing – this feature allows a user to browse the Internet without IE 8 retaining browser history or storing files, such as cookies, in the user’s temporary files. When viewing the Web using InPrivate, IE 8 will not store new history entries, form data, passwords, addresses typed into the address bar, queries entered into the search box, or visited links. A user can activate this feature by selecting the ‘InPrivate’ button on a new tab page within the browser.
  • InPrivate blocking – this feature permits users to allow or block third-party content on web pages they visit. The tool is designed to block third-party content that appears across web sites visited by a user. Content delivered directly from the web page visited by a user is not blocked. 
  • InPrivate Subscriptions – this feature allows a user to subscribe to third party “allow or block lists.” The subscription list subscribed to will either block or allow access to third party content while a user activates InPrivate Browsing.

These features, if used by consumers, which effect how data concerning users may be collected and maintained, will impact the Internet experience of users, web publishers, content providers, and third party networks. For example, Web publishers’ content provided by third parties, such as local weather and news, or recalling a user’s preferences, and relevant advertisement delivered by third party networks may not appear.

Microsoft has offered recommendations on how third-party content providers can reduce the risk of their content being blocked through the InPrivate feature. Microsoft suggests that web publishers and third-party content providers enter arrangements in one of two ways by which the content appears as first-party content. One option is for the web-publisher to host the content of their partners within their domain. The other option is for the web publisher to alias partner servers to sub domains of the web publisher. These suggestions may prove helpful for web application providers, provided the parties are able to reconcile business and branding objectives, but it may not assist network advertisers. Such entities can also join InPrivate subscriptions lists that may be developed in the future that will allow content by trusted third parties.

Google Chrome

Google’s new web browser also includes a feature that allows consumers to browse the Internet anonymously. This feature, called “Incognito,” allows users to browse the web without the web pages and files downloaded being logged in a user’s browsing and download histories. When a user closes an “Incognito” window, no new cookies from that session will be stored. This feature limits the Chrome browser from storing information about the site the user visited. It does allow the visited web site to make a record of the user’s visit. The files saved to a user’s computer will remain there after the Chrome browser is closed.

Google announced on September 8, 2008, that it has modified its log retention policy. Google stated that in response to regulatory concerns it will anonymize IP addresses on their server logs after nine months. IP addresses were previously anonymized after eighteen months.