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MS adds cookie detector to IE, grooms Privacy R US stance

Former antagonists pounce to push it further onto path of righteousness

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Microsoft has acted to expunge its somewhat less than glorious record on privacy and security by offering users a cookie management feature. The new cookie manager, which is intended to tell users when Web sites offer them cookies, and to make it easier for them to delete and manage them, is being released to beta testers as a technical beta for IE 5.

Cookies are used by Web sites to keep track of individual users and their preferences, and in general they're helpful. But they can also be used for more sinister tracking purposes. Cookie management isn't exactly original (Opera, for example, already has reasonably effective detection and management systems built in) but Microsoft's decision to implement a system for IE indicates that the barrage of criticism has been getting to it, and indeed that it really meant it when it promised better security features a few months back.

The company's reward has already arrived; Jason Catlett of Junkbusters and security expert Richard Smith have both praised the move. These two are more usually found exposing Microsoft security issues and berating the company for them, so being with the Good Guys is something of a breakthrough for Redmond.

Smith's praise is however somewhat barbed. "Online privacy has become a rarity for the obvious reason that too many software applications have become far too talkative [one wonders whose applications he could possibly be referring to here]. Microsoft has started an important correction to this trend by its decision to make its Web browser stop and ask users before reporting data about them."

But one can surmise that the talkative apps problem still awaits correction - that's a biggie for Microsoft, because it's embedded in a whole integrationist strategy that can't easily be redirected.

Catlett's enthusiasm is also maybe a little muted. Junkbusters says that "Microsoft's move [is] only the start in the extensive effort that will be needed to repair the damage done to consumer privacy by software that collects and transmits excessive data." Catlett himself called for new legal rights for Americans to repossess the "billions of pieces of clickstream data" which online advertisers have "pilfered" from them.

Not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning, surely - having seem them blink, it looks like Junkbusters wants them on the floor in tears next... ®

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