IE9 To Block Ads, Tracking

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 could be a Google killer. It could also kill the Web as we know it.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 could be a Google killer. It could also kill the Web as we know it.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott:

If Internet Explorer 9 becomes widely adopted and if Tracking Protection is widely used—and those are two tricky assumptions—it has the potential to seriously disrupt the online advertising business. Microsoft made this feature widely available last week in the Release Candidate build of IE9 (if you missed it, here’s my review of the IE9 RC). Using the RC, it takes exactly two clicks to download a Tracking Protection List (TPL) and begin blocking third-party cookies, tracking pixels, web beacons, hit counters, analytics scripts, and other tools of the modern web designed to assemble a profile of your movements and activities on the web.

Oh, and it blocks ads, too.

The display of Web advertising and invisible tracking of user behavior goes hand in hand. Google and other companies are frighteningly good at collecting data on Web users so that they can target advertising. If done properly, a teenager, a middle manager, and a CEO will all get very different ads when viewing the same Web page. Indeed, different teenagers and CEOs will get different ads depending on their interests, as gleaned from their search history.

Google has made its billions on perfecting this. And its model is pretty sneaky: AdSense, its crown jewel, fuels many of the sites you see. But Google is best known by most people for its namesake search engine and the plethora of free services (Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Picasa, Google Calendar, and dozens more). These, in turn, gather a phenomenal amount of information which it monetizes through AdSense.

Bott goes into great detail as to how these new features in IE9 would all work. And, he points out, “The underlying idea behind Tracking Protection isn’t new. Third-party tools and extensions have been adding similar privacy-protecting features to web browsers for a long time, usually in the form of a browser extension, add-on, or plug-in. Adding this feature into the browser itself, however, as Microsoft has done, is a first.”

That’s actually a pretty big deal. Right now, some power users already block various ads and scripts to speed up their downloads and avoid the clutter of advertising. Additionally, some companies do the same thing, mostly as a security measure. If blocking of ads and tracking becomes the default mode of surfing the Web, though, the entire business model on which it’s currently built will collapse.

Television is the obvious analogue. From its beginning, commercial sponsors have paid for the programming. In recent years, that model has been threatened by new technologies — notably the VCR and the DVR — that allow people to fast forward through or even zap the ads. But, since most viewers don’t bother, the model still works. (And, naturally, advertisers continue to look for ways to trick fast-forwarders into watching ads.)

While there has always been plenty of online content that’s created by hobbyists or professionals without intention of making any money directly, the vast majority of what you read these days is produced by publishers relying on advertising revenue. If that ceases to be reliable, those sites will have to find other means of supporting themselves. And since Web users are notoriously resistant to paying for content, it’s not at all clear what those other means might be.

As most of you are well aware, Web advertisers have become more aggressive of late, coming up with ever-more-intrusive ways of forcing you to pay attention. Presumably, they’ll try to figure out ways of getting around these tracking protection features. Or, at least, work with site owners to block users who block ads. Either way, the user experience is likely to be more, not less, aggravating.

Either that, or there will be a whole lot less content.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    It is amusing when I shop for fly rods, and then see fly rods on this non-sporting site.

    Just the same, it’s probably wrong. There should be enough business in ad-content tied to your site content, and not tied to me.

    On the other hand, I think location is fair. Right now I’m seeing ads in the sidebar based on where I am, and not where I live.

    … if IE9 and future browsers give us filters, I’m for it. I would probably try to turn off personal tracking but as I say, allow location-aware services.

  2. john personna says:

    (I see that, for me at least, you have scored an IE9 ad in the sidebar, lolz)

  3. rodney dill says:

    I buy a number of things over the internet, and browse for a much larger number of items. My process is to google the item and see what pops up. There a maybe a dozen or so sites I trust for techie items and a few of the ‘brick and mortar’ sites as well. I can’t remember that I’ve ever seen an item in an ad and then gone to the ad site to even look at it, let alone buy it.

  4. Rock says:

    I see the same stuff in the sidebar here as the rest of you, including the IE9 ad. But checking in here something went one more step and tried to get me to accept a download I didn’t ask for. WTF?? I canceled the download and started No Script addon. There is also an ad server constantly tracking my activity at the bottom of the screen.

  5. Rock says:

    At the moment No Script has blocked 37 scripts from running on this page. Nothing in the sidebar except a few links. No Ads.

  6. Michael says:

    If blocking of ads and tracking becomes the default mode of surfing the Web, though, the entire business model on which it’s currently built will collapse.

    Hardly, the only way ad blockers and anti-tracking works is because you have content on your site that isn’t being delivered by your server, but rather by someone else’s server. The only change necessary would be to route the ads and tracking data through your server, essentially make you the middle man, and there would be no way for the browser to tell content from ads.

  7. Michael says:

    I actually have OTB white-listed on Ad Block Plus, because the ads thus far have not been intrusive, and I appreciate the content enough to want to support it by seeing the ads. I have a handful of sites on my white list for this reason.

  8. John Burgess says:

    Somebody has to come up with a reliable process to handle micro-payments, fractions of a cent charged per item browsed. That may or may not be good for advertisers, but it would be good for content creators.

  9. John Peabody says:

    Most of this information is to technical for me- I’m only a 1.5 volt power user. But I still have an idea- could advertisers pay to include ads inside the text of their blog posts? That couldn’t be blocked by any means. But, that does not allow for pin-point advertising.

    Back to the drawing board (damn, I should get some drawing software).

  10. sam says:

    This might be a good time to remind folks, or tell folks who don’t know, that flash content lays down cookies — and not where you’d think to find them. And those cookies last a loooooong time.

    See You Deleted Your Cookies? Think Again.

    The fix on a linux box is straight-forward: link the ~/.macromedia directory to /dev/null. See the cite for help on Windows and Mac.

  11. sam says:

    I don’t know what impact, if any, the foregoing might have on those of you who are au courant with the latest and greatest, but anyhoo:

    Adobe spells out Flash-y plans for Android

  12. James Joyner says:

    @John Burgess: I do like the micropayments idea but people are so used to the Web being free. And, presumably, the privacy complaints people have now about Google would be magnified if you had to pay per page visit.

    @John Peabody: Google and others are working very hard to crack down on pay-per-post schemes. They claim it’s because such content pollutes the Web, which it does. But it also happens to directly compete with their business model.

  13. Rock says:

    Sam, thanks for the above link. I usually had to manually delete the Flash LSO super cookies once a month or so when I remembered to do so. The link led me to a Foxfire add-on called Better Privacy which does indeed remove them automatically. After a bit of testing I found that the No Script add-on for Foxfire prevents the Flash cookies from setting in the first place. No Script also blocks viewing any Flash or YouTube content, but pages load very fast.

  14. Ernieyeball says:

    On OTB and other sites I see a lot of ad’s about how housewives make bushels of money on their computers in Adrian MI. Adrian is a good ten hour drive from where I live in Sleepytown. Apparently some of this tracking is off target.

  15. sam says:

    Yeah, Rock, cool. One of the nasty thing about those flash cookies, acc to piece I cited, is the ability of some to recreate cookies you deleted. That is definitely notcool.

  16. matt says:

    I don’t see most of this crap anyway as I run firefox with adblock plus noscript and noflash. After using it for a while you’ll figure out what script you need to run to access the data you want (such as videos or images)..

    I do allow ads on some sites as a show of support for sites I deem worthy..

  17. matt says:

    Naturally OTB is one of the sites I allow ads on.