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IE6 will not monster our cookies, says Doubleclick

P3P policy on the way before final release

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Doubleclick cookies may be entirely blocked by the current beta versions of IE6, as detailed in our story yesterday, but the king of the adservers insists that this won't be the case by the time the finished version of IE6 ships, this August. According to Jules Polonetsky, Doubleclick chief privacy officer and special counsel, the company has a machine readable P3P policy in preparation, and this will allow Doubleclick cookies to be accepted by IE6 at the default privacy settings.

In addition to his day job Jules tells us he's a member of the P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences) Working Group and an IE6 beta tester, so he speaks with some authority, besides conveying the impression he's some kind of nightmare geek/attorney combo. The position, he says, is that IE6 at default tests whether a cookie collects personal information, whether it profiles with personal information, and whether it allows an opt out. "Doubleclick does not collect personal information with its cookies, does not profile using personal information, and created an opt-out cookie in 1997. Thus the Doubleclick cookie will be accepted by the 6.0 default settings."

That of course is not the situation now, and we think Doubleclick may possibly be underestimating the impact of the current IE6 beta code. Doubleclick being a market leader, the sight of its cookies keeling over in the face of IE6 beta code must be furrowing brows all over the world. Doubleclick customers who are also testing IE6 - quite a lot of them, we'd presume - are likely to be putting two and two together and getting five, and we can't help noticing how helpful for Microsoft that is.

Even if they are wrong, and the answer doesn't turn out to be five after all. P3P has been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, and is intended as an industry standard. The Register thinks it's worthless, but we've told you that before so we won't detain you right now. Its implementation, however, is not currently what we'd term independent.

The first browser to implement P3P will be IE6, and here's a section from Doubleclick's P3P briefing that we think has some significance in that context: "If a cookie's CP [Compact Policy] is acceptable or unacceptable according to Microsoft's internally set standards" (our emphasis)...

That's just a snapshot of the way Redmond is currently embracing independent Internet standards. By keeping ahead of the curve, putting them in place first, Microsoft can call the shots as regards how they're put in place. Thus, in the specific case of IE6, the browser is P3P conformant, but the setting of the particular hurdles is entirely of Microsoft's devising. There are five different security level settings, Microsoft has decided the default will be medium, and if you want flexibility outside of those five different settings you're going to have to hand tool the sites you're concerned/not concerned about.

It's also worth noting that it's going to be IE that drives P3P through the Internet. Microsoft is the police force of independent Internet privacy standards. So you just go roll that one around inside your head then smoke it.

Actually, IE6 uses a meat-axe approach that is at least arguably worse than the old version whereby IE could be induced to ask you if you wanted (for your added comfort and security, or some such tripe) whether you wanted to accept a cookie. And of course good old Opera will ask you and tell you what they are, so you can deal with them from a position of knowledge on a case by case basis, if you can be bothered.*

But that's not the way the callers of shots are going to do it, and unless any last minute breakware is inserted (presumably Jules is watching out for this sort of stuff), Doubleclick is going to be inside the tent they construct rather than outside. For how long? Given what Microsoft proposes to do with .NET, Doubleclick is just one of many companies in many different sectors whose business model is threatened by the voracious and ever expanding Redmond. Just toeing the line has not generally been enough in the past, and there's no reason to believe it will be enough now. ®

* We got an impressive number of 'Die, Doubleclick, die' emails after yesterday's piece. Come on people, get real - they made a mistake, they paid their debt to society, they're now totaly paranoid about accusations of privacy infringement and they seem to have an astonishing number of privacy officers. Even if they'd still secretly like to rule the world they know they can't do this, and this is progress. So it really doesn't make sense to hate them more than certain companies who haven't figured this out yet. Anyway, if you really hate Doubleclick that much just go and get the blocking cookie from Doubleclick, or install Opera and give yourself the added satisfaction of clicking no every time one comes by. Otherwise, there's no sense in whining about it.

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