Microsoft adds privacy tools to IE8

So-called porn mode tools to debut in IE8 Beta 2 this month

Microsoft Monday spelled out new privacy tools in Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) that some have dubbed "porn mode" in a nod to the most-obvious use of a browser privacy mode.

A privacy advocate applauded the move, calling it a "great step forward," while rival browser builder Mozilla said it is working to add similar features to a future Firefox.

Slated to appear in IE8 Beta 2, which Microsoft's former chairman, Bill Gates, promised will release this month, the three new tools share the "InPrivate" name, which Microsoft filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office several weeks ago.

The most intriguing tool, and the one that has prompted the "porn mode" label, was dubbed "InPrivate Browsing" by Microsoft. When enabled, IE8 will not save browsing and searching history, cookies, form data and passwords; it also will automatically clear the browser cache at the end of the session.

Other new tools will include "InPrivate Blocking" and "InPrivate Subscription," which notifies users of third-party content that can track browsing history and subscribe to lists of sites to block, respectively. Microsoft will also tweak its existing "Delete Browsing History" by adding an option to preserve bookmarked sites' cookies even when all others are erased.

"When we began planning IE8, we took a hard look at our customers' concerns about privacy on the Web," said Andy Zeigler, an IE program manager, as he explained InPrivate Browsing in a long post to the team's blog. "Many users are concerned about so-called 'over-the-shoulder privacy,' or the ability to control what their spouses, friends, kids, and co-workers might see.

"If you are using a shared PC, a borrowed laptop from a friend, or a public PC, sometimes you don't want other people to know where you've been," Zeigler added.

One wag commenting on Zeigler's post quoted some of his text before shooting back. "You know as well as I do this feature is built for porn," said a user identified as "Ert."

That label marginalizes privacy concerns, countered Mozilla's Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox. "To lock everyone into a'porn bucket' makes people who have alternate privacy needs think that they're doing something wrong," said Beltzner.

Instead, Mozilla has used the term "private browsing" to describe the tools it plans on adding to Firefox, perhaps in a follow-on to Firefox 3.1, which the company has targeted for a release later this year or in early 2009.

Mozilla's goal, however, is to offer more than a privacy mode that users must switch on before the browser begins to cover their tracks. "We want users to not only be able to enter [a private browsing session], but tell the browser that they want to delete all evidence starting a couple of hours ago," said Beltzner.

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