Microsoft hints at “private browsing” feature in IE

One of the most interesting feature that didn’t quite make it into the final release of Firefox 3 is “Private Browsing”, a.k.a. porn mode. The only other browser with this feature built-in today is Safari (another reason to try it in case you haven’t), however, Microsoft may also be building a similar feature into Internet Explorer 8 if two trademark filings are any indications.

On July 30th, Microsoft filed two trademarks for:

CLEARTRACKS
IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: computer programs for accessing and using the Internet and the world wide web; and computer programs for deleting search history after accessing websites

INPRIVATE
IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: computer programs for accessing and using the Internet and the world wide web; computer programs for disabling the history and file caching features of a web browser; and computer software for notifying a user of a web browser when others are tracking web use and for controlling the information others can access about such use

Although “private browsing” can be easily associated with viewing particular genres of media content, the Mozilla foundation argues “while viewing pornography may be a popular use case due to the nature of content on the Web, assuming that this is the only reason that users need private browsing trivializes the overall feature. For instance, users may wish to begin a private browsing session to research a medical condition, or plan a surprise vacation or birthday party for a loved one.”

If indeed Microsoft is rolling out such a feature in Internet Explorer 8, I can imagine it becoming very popular with surprise birthday planners across the world. Oh those birthday people are in for a treat.

73 insightful thoughts

  1. Forgot to add, I can easily see this tying into Parental Controls within Vista/7, as in allowing or disallowing the feature on certain accounts, etc… Who knows all the birthday planning them children might be doin’!

  2. Hey now! It’s not just party planning we kids are doing, we also plan weddings and huge hooplas. Of course, there is the occasional “medical research.” ;)

  3. “For instance, users may wish to begin a private browsing session to research a medical condition, or plan a surprise vacation or birthday party for a loved one.”
    *Stifles laughter*

  4. This will be awesome! I ‘plan surprise parties’ at least once a day and this will go a long way to not getting busted!

  5. Well forgot to mention an important thing: wedding planing will make “porn surfing” eh’m … pirate surfing … eh’m … private surfing necessary! *lol*

    I think the FF extension mention above will become more popular now ;-)

    Btw, I wish that M$ will concentrate more on fixing Fista eh’m Vista issues rather than implementing such important IE8 things…

  6. A quick comment to Alexander Obrzut (above)…
    Alexander said:
    “I worry about the illegal uses such software can facilitate such as planning a murder, stalking, researching terrorist activities and so forth. Perhaps a feature too far?”

    Bad people will find ways to do bad things. Always have. Always will. It’s wrong to withhold good things from good people (like me and you) in an attempt to prevent misuse. That sort of thing rarely works anyway. Gun bans are a good example: Check out the violent crime rate in Washington, DC.

    Any good thing can be abused, either thru carelessness or malice. It’s human nature. Do you want a free society, or a safe one? History tells us we can’t have both.

  7. What exactly is so great about this? Its a feature that doesn’t track your browsing records ON YOUR COMPUTER. That’s it. All the other servers where you access info will still probably have your IP address logged, Google will still have your searches saved, advertisers will probably still get all your info. All this seems to do for me is make deleting individual items easier. (Which I do by navigating to history, and deleting what I don’t like)

  8. “I’m sure this will make accreditation of Internet Explorer in the government space slightly easier too.”

    There is no reason why it would; this is just a feature to prevent opportunistic snooping. Its implementation will not be open source, therefore not open to independent review. There is no indication that, having deleted the information, this system will overwrite its underlying disk image to a degree which will make it unrecoverable (a very stringent requirement, by the way). Hence the information will not be secure to any acceptable standard confidentiality.

    And would it be tactless to bring up Microsoft’s history (eg in Word) of burying away copies of information that the user thought he had deleted? Yes, I suppose it would … ooops, too late.

  9. I wonder when the first Patch/Hotfix/Service pack will come out to the fix the history etc that wasnt being deleted properly!

  10. Now there are some much more serious concerns regarding privacy on the internet we should address; namely the fact that many if not most larger websites profile our behavior on the net to create a for instance a marketing profile about us. These profiles can and are been further abused to screen personality, political, sexual and religious preferences.

  11. I use the ‘Modify Headers’ plugin for Firefox to prevent it passing on unnecessary details to web sites: browser, referrer, OS and .Net CLR versions, cookies settings.
    If a site does not know what browser, OS and .Net CLR you are using it is more difficult to target vulnerabilities. In principle tell them nothing they do not need to know.

  12. That is a possibility, however you will thereby also reduce your browsing experience due to the fact that client side scripting most likely will fail if you do that. Also the .net CLR your using tells very little about your browsing behavior and you also need to be careful with removing the possibility to inject cookie to your machine, any wanted personalization of web pages might be compromised doing that. If you need to modify your cookie settings you might want to disallow third party cookies but no others. Third party cookies are seldom used for anything else than profiling so those you want to remove. However removing your referrer header is a very good idea, websites normally don’t need to know from where your coming.

  13. You are correct Christian, it does inhibit some sites, but not as much as you might think. I don’t have many problems doing this. I like to be proactive with browsing security, rather than wait to hear about a new vulnerability, they are inevitable in all networked popular software.

    This is my browsing security scheme:
    My default browser Firefox also uses SiteAdvisor, Adddblock Plus, auto clearing of cache and browsing history etc on closing the browser, disabled cookies, JavaScript, Java and Flash, or anything active except QuickTime and I am considering dumping that. Yes this level of lock-down disables some web sites and strongly limits some others, but I use the Opera browser with more liberal settings for sites I trust, just restricting third-party cookies and deleting tracks on close. I use IE for important things that require a login, like banking and restrict it like Opera.
    As a result I only get a few innocuous cookies a week from trusted sites which are cleared up by anti-spyware tools.

    One can’t stop them if they want you, but most of the bad guys are just looking for easy targets. So be difficult.
    It took a while to discover and configure the tools and techniques I use, but now my browsing is easy and trouble free. The main downside, occasionally a site I visit in Firefox gets visited again in Opera. Not too bad really, compared to never getting any malware in years.

  14. Alan B.

    I think what he was referring to was giving criminals the ability to supress evidence in such cases. I’ve heard of several cases where internet history was used in a murder trial. Usually having to do with looking for and having with correspondence with potential hitmen. I don’t see how it could have been considered a deterant.

  15. @secret surfer: I can see your concern however depending on the nature of your browsing experience and your expertise regarding IT you might be overly paranoid. Anyway, we are discussing the private browsing feature on the upcoming IE8, something I welcome a lot. That gives the user the opportunity to turn on and off privacy in an easy way along the web.

    Also, it’s not what I think but what I know I am sharing here, I am a professional web developer so I do know exactly what I am talking about but then again also what to avoid. The recipe for header modifications I gave you is a reasonable safe one usable for most users with medium experience on the internet. You see cookies are mainly used for good things, enhancing your browsing experience and so is JavaScript, third party cookies however are mainly used for tracking purposes as is the referrer parameter.

    Now how much security you need to implement depends on as I already said mainly three factors:

    a) Your experience as a User
    b) The sites you choose to navigate and
    c) Your personal/professional need for confidentiality.

    You can also granulate your privacy further by using high security settings on all sites and add a few chosen sites (like your bank) to the list of trusted sites (IE) or implement exceptions for cookies, JavaScript i.e. in Firefox and thereby once and for all configure security on your browser of choice hence avoiding inconvenient browser switches.

  16. As someone who developed a Web site for abuse victims, this is a great feature. It will allow those people seeking help to look for it without the fear that their abuser will come home and search the history. This will also help those who are being stalked with spy wear. There are a lot of sick people out there and this will be good protection.

  17. Why does software have to persist everything these days. Besides slowing things down, security is a definite issue. Your computer is a treasure trove and I would guess that people do not waste their time going through trash cans now since they get more information off your computer. I do understand that intentional or unintensional porn could get you fired or even put in jail depending on the age of the person but other issues such as corporate, government, marketing and inpersonation spying is probably more prevalent. I have an automatic batch command to clear out the files system and registry of this information.

    I wonder how many cache hits actually occur these days since not much web content is static (even the Google logo even changes daily).

  18. Pingback: Porn Mode?
  19. One good use is if you’re at work and looking for a new job while you’re at work. Porn isn’t the only reason. This privacy feature could be used for numerous things. I don’t know why pron is always the primary issue that comes up on everything. It’s ridiculous. So, a lot of people look at porn. We’re human and we’re sexually active creatures. That’s never going to change. Why we put ourselves down as a society for looking at stimulating images that are for the sole effect of tantalizing our sexually active instincts is beyond me. Sure, work isn’t a place to be doing such things but, wherever you do it (as long as its not at work which could cause a sexual harassment problem if someone of the opposite sex was around and saw it), it’s your legal and moral right to do so and should not be considered a bad thing by anyone. Society has turned innocent things into horrible bad things when they aren’t.

  20. Just a little advice here (after reading the comments).

    If you really think you can hide behind a “privacy mode” you should think again. Corporations log everything you do via http. Probably ISPs do as well. (I come from corporate IT, not from ISP IT, so I cannot say.)

    Yes, you may hide this from your kids or your spouse, but you are not hiding anything from your employer unless you are a lot sneakier than this. (Hint: think encryption and proxy servers.)

  21. One information you may not be aware of:
    Even when you delete the cache from your IE, there’s a huge pile of traces left in the so called .DAT file. There are several .DAT files hidden in your system, those that you normally wouldn’t be able to find on your system.
    Don’t assume that this post is bogus, just try to do find more info on the web. For example try “Windows .DAT index history” (without quotes).
    I don’t know what is Microsoft planning for IE8 “stealth mode”, but IE should not try to use index.dat or similar hidden data repository in that mode.

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  23. Just saw the story on BBC by chance. I think it is bad form for BBC to mention your name as the source, but not link to this post or site. A link on the BBC site would give you a massive traffic surge! Long, try to contact BBC to get a link – would be well deserved.

  24. Porn mode ha ha!! I recently got busted when my wife downloaded InfoFind from Omnicognic and found tones of it and even the time I accessed it. Now I use the same program to clear it lol!!! Gotta be careful and use good forensic software to clear it!!!!

  25. @oop: That’s the trademark category number – because they’re both “computer programs for accessing the internet”, the actual serial numbers are different.

  26. Zheng speculates that Microsoft may be rolling out “Private Browsing” in Internet Explorer 8 here.

    MacDailyNews Note: In what’s sure to be thrilling news for tech illiterate Web surfers the world over, according to various reports, Internet Explorer 8 is supposedly due this November. Better than usual, Microsoft: you’re only three years and seven months behind Apple on this one.

  27. For those of you who think any of this iz funny, I’ve been here via internet for 10 yrs and 6 of those yrs have been miserable, eg. identity theft, spyware, hacking, ruining a few pcs along the way, etc.
    And better yet, if someone rakes a nail down the side of your car, can you prove that ?
    I’M FOR ALL THE SECURITY I CAN GET, she yells. AND …
    For any of you who watched CSPAN talking about how nothing is secure on the interent but the NAVY, I could not take my eyes away …
    Yup, it used to be fun here years ago when the internet was so “empty” till all the creeps had nothing better to do than get that connection and hack their way into your life, congested the cyber highway.
    Have FUN PPL trying to figure it all out!!

  28. Hmm… im on the internet… home alone… with private browsing…. LETS RESEARCH MEDICAL CONDITIONS!!!
    O.o … Seriously, the developers of IE must be very horny :D anyway, im gonna watch some videos about medical conditions…….

  29. Regardless of who uses the Internet for what purpose, don’t lose sight of the fact that we all have gotten bit too slack when guarding ourselves from ‘legal spies’ having their way with us online via cookies & the like.

    I recon if there’s a way to eliminate local cache of any user tracks, it’s a good thing, & I applaud Mozilla for going there.

    After all it’s my privacy—& it doesn’t belong to you, google, MS, or anyone else.

    If I don’t want anyone making money off of my ‘legitimate’ internet usage & patterns because it’s easily gleaned off my machine, then I damn well want it.

    Let the ‘legal spies’ find another way to cash in on someone else’s privacy, but stay the hell away from mine!

    If the government wants anyone’s browsing history they can always legally subpena the users ISP, & there’s no such thing as browsing ‘anonymously’ anymore anyway regardless of what anyone says. That puppy was put down long ago.

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