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Microsoft is poised to begin a public preview of Internet Explorer 6, according to a web site tracked down by Betanews. The curiously inexpert-looking use of an IP in the link had our scam detectors twitching, but no, 131.107.85.107 does seem to be owned by the Beast of Redmond, so the site's probably just under construction, and the name's TBA.

Most likely Microsoft intends to kick off the preview of the non-WinXP version of IE6 at around the same time as it rolls with the preview of WinXP itself. As yet there's no information on the site actually about the public preview (although there's a nice blank page), and the only thing that seems to be working is a nice form for reporting the bugs in the software you haven't got. Unless you grabbed it when the beta code escaped a while back.

IE6 is certainly important to Microsoft, because it's the version of the software the company will be using to get its take on privacy and cookie management into the hands of the users. It'll include, as Microsoft announced ealier this week, support for P3P privacy statements, and a default cookie handling setting of medium, which is probably where most of the world will leave it.* Our old friend Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, snappily denounced it all: "Microsoft's 'thermostat setting' where surfers are required to tell their PCs how much they will tolerate being surveilled gives a misleading and dangerous view of privacy. People shouldn't be forced to trade privacy for participation." More snappy denunciations from Jason available here.

Actually, even though the preview IP does seem to belong to Microsoft, it still looks like an email address gathering scam to us, just maybe a Microsoft one. MS public preview programs are generally intended to get pretty large numbers of people to look at the software, and we surmise that the volume of bug reports they generate must be so vast that the smart thing to do is just to route them all straight to the trash, rather than actually check them.

But those nice fields with name, email address, detailed hardware configuration, ISP name, connection type, software on the machine... Well, that's all useful, isn't it? And it's also the sort of stuff people get ballistic about if, say, they find the software sniffs it out and 'accidentally' sends it to Redmond. The great thing about preview programs is that you can use them to induce people to invade their own privacy for you. ®

* Cranking cookie detect up to full can be entertaining. A recent Register reality check of the Intel site collected us 58 cookies during a visit to the front door, and two other pages. This is one sick company.

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And you can't sign up for the program yet here.

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