Microsoft has responded to reports that it sacrificed user privacy for the sake of advertising revenue when developing Internet Explorer 8.
An extensive report in The Wall Street Journal tells of a turf war at Microsoft between developers who wanted to give users total privacy from tracking software, and the advertising lobby led by Brian McAndrews, a Microsoft senior vice president and former head of web advertising firm aQuantive which Microsoft acquired in May 2007.
The report said that the development team for IE8, led by general manager Dean Hachamovitch, planned a feature that would block any third-party content found on more than 10 web sites since it is likely to be tracking software. This would be built into the start-up wizard so that everyone would see it.
McAndrews only heard of this through backchannels at Microsoft, and this led to a showdown between the two departments, according to the paper.
"We were worried that it was going to cause a stampede away from tracking technologies," an executive who worked with McAndrews is quoted as saying. "It was an act with the potential to reverberate across the industry."
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer told chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie and general counsel Brad Smith to sort the issue out, according to Peter Cullen, Microsoft's chief privacy strategist.
"Because some of the technologies that can be used for tracking are also essential today for basic functionality, there is no 'just give me perfect privacy' feature," he said in a blog post.
"Distinguishing between a tracking technology (a beacon) and a useful piece of web content (a stock chart used as a beacon) is not obvious."
Too much privacy can harm users by cutting off easy log-in and web personalisation, Hachamovitch argued, and the current system balances convenience and freedom from tracking.
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