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January 30, 2009

Internet Explorer 8 RC1: Porn mode gets a face-lift

ie8logo Now if that headline doesn’t get me some search ranking juice, nothing will - though my contextual ads (left) are likely to be less impressed.

I was going to post this earlier in the week, but Eric Peterson’s swashbuckling defense of cookies (and my hand-wringing response)  intervened. As it turns out, though, that debate is very relevant to this post, which concerns the latest build of Internet Explorer 8 (still used by around 80% of the world’s web users, though not by you lot, who seem to favor Firefox by a nose), which hit the web this week.

I’ve already posted once about IE8, and talked about its new “InPrivate” features (also known as “porn mode”) that allow you to surf the web without leaving a trace (on the machine you’re using, of course – the websites you visit can still track your behavior). It’s worthy of another post because the specific feature that piqued my interest the last time – InPrivate Blocking – has a new name and somewhat different behavior now.

The new name for InPrivate Blocking is InPrivate Filtering, which is certainly a better name. You may recall that InPrivate Blocking was a feature that allowed the user to tell IE to block requests to third-party websites, either manually, or if content from those sites had been served in a third-party context more than 10 times. Examples of this kind of content? Web analytics tracking tag code; ads; widgets; embedded YouTube videos. The idea is to enable users to opt out of this kind of content because it enables third parties to track user behavior (with or without cookies) without them really knowing.

So what’s new in RC1, apart from a friendlier name? Well, a couple of things. The first is that InPrivate Filtering can be turned on even if you’re not browsing in “InPrivate mode”, via the Safety menu, or a handy little icon in the status bar:

image

Click it, and InPrivate Filtering is on. There’s no way to turn this on by default; you have to click the icon every time you start a new IE instance.

The other major change is that there’s more control over how third-party content is blocked. In the previous beta, content was automatically blocked if it turned up more than 10 times (i.e. on 10 different sites) as third-party content. That number is now tunable, to anywhere between 3 and 30:

image

The idea of InPrivate Filtering Subscriptions still exists – a user can import an appropriately formatted XML file (or click on a link on a site, such as this one) to subscribe to a list of blocked third-party content.I’ve not seen any public subscriptions pop up, however, in the time since IE8 beta 2 came out.

In my previous post in IE8, I wrote about how, as someone whose job depends on being able to track users, I am conflicted about this functionality. This revision makes it slightly easier for privacy hawks to block third-party content, and whilst I welcome it, my original prediction – that it will be relatively lightly used in practice – still stands.

Interestingly, since IE8 beta 2 was announced in August, other browser manufacturers have followed suit – most notably, Mozilla, which will be including InPrivate-style functionality in Firefox 3.1 – though without the third-party content blocking feature. Apple’s Safari browser has had similar functionality for some time.

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