Revenge of the Nerds: Microsoft will make “Do Not Track” the Default Setting for IE 10.

Do Not TrackIs it just me, or has Microsoft seemed to be the quiet wallflower in recent months? Meanwhile, Facebook and Google have been getting all the attention – good and bad.

But now, here comes this announcement: Microsoft will make the “do not track” feature in the next version of its Internet Explorer browser the “default” option when it ships.

This move poses a threat to the efforts of online advertising giants – including arch-rival Google – to track browsing behaviors and serve up relevant advertising – you know, the high-priced kind.

Could it be that Microsoft is doing a Monty Python “I fart in your general direction” number on Google? And how does this move affect the evolving privacy standards in the online realm?

It should be remembered that the “do not track” feature doesn’t actually block tracking cookies. But it does send a message to every website visited, stating the preference not to track.

It’s a request, not a command, but more sites are now honoring the request. Including, importantly, Twitter … which announced in May that it would embrace the emerging privacy standard.

The Federal Trade Commission also backs the new privacy standard, even as the agency has become more hostile to the online advertising industry’s tracking practices. In fact, the FTC has been threatening to advocate for privacy legislation.

Indeed, online advertisers are now walking a fine line in all of this. Ostensibly, they’re supporting privacy policies … but the ones they’re advocating aren’t too onerous on their ability to collect behavioral data.

What’s most concerning to advertisers is the possibility that they may eventually need to change the way they build profiles of users in order to sell premium-priced targeted ads.  That’s a nightmare scenario they’re attempting to avoid at all costs.

In this environment, how much of a threat is Microsoft’s move? Potentially big, since it’s likely that ~25% or more of web users will upgrade to the IE 10 product over time – with all of them having the “do not track” feature “on” by default.

Microsoft claims that it’s making the change “to better protect user privacy.” That seems logical on its face – and in keeping with Microsoft’s recent moves to incorporate privacy technologies in its browser products.

But one has to wonder if it’s also one of those “nyah” moments directed squarely at Google.

Because as we all know, there’s absolutely no love lost between these two behemoths.

Firefox Turns Five: All grown-up now … and with a few grown-up challenges.

Firefox logoMozilla’s Firefox web browser marked a milestone this past week, celebrating its fifth birthday.

No question about it, the open-source browser has been a big success, with growth that has been impressive by any measure. As of the end of July, Firefox had been downloaded more than 1 billion times.

Indeed, a mainstream site like this one here (WordPress) reports that Firefox now represents a larger share of activity than Internet Explorer — 46% versus 39% of traffic.

But now that Firefox has come of age, it’s facing some of the same “grown up” challenges that other browsers face.

In fact, application security vendor Cenzic has just released its security trends report covering the first half of 2009. Guess what? Firefox led the field of web browers in terms of reported total vulnerabilities. Here are the stats from Cenzic:

 Firefox: 44% of reported browser vulnerabilities
 Apple Safari: 35%
 Internet Explorer: 15%
 Opera: 6%

Compared to Cenzic’s report covering the second half of 2008, Firefox’s figure is up from 39%, while IE’s number is down sharply from 43%.

Welcome to reality. As Firefox has grown in importance, it’s gained more exposure to vulnerabilities. A significant portion of those vulnerabilities have come via plug-ins.

Mozilla is trying to take steps to counteract this, including launching a plug-in checker service to ensure that users are running up-to-date versions. It also offers a “bug bounty” to anyone who discovers security holes in Firebox.

And the good news is that even though Firefox had the highest number of vulnerabilities, even Cenzic admits that this doesn’t necesarily mean Firefox users are more vulnerable to security threats. Plus, those vulnerabilities tend to be patched more quickly than those found in other browsers.

So on this fifth anniversary milestone, Firefox can be justly praised as a major success story in the web browser world.