Microsoft Corp. on Thursday announced a beta version of its new Internet Explorer version 5.5 browser that will let users know when and what kind of cookies are being received by their computers.
Microsoft's new upgrade will track both first and third-party cookies. Users will be notified with alerts when cookies arrive and will be able to manage and delete them. Microsoft received consumer feedback expressing confusion over cookies, prompting the Redmond, Washington company to update the browser, the company said in a statement.
The new browser function is a positive move to provide users with more control over the information they give out about themselves, said Richard Smith, an Internet security consultant based in Massachusetts, who has discovered security holes in Microsoft software in the past.
"In a way, the Internet marketing companies have been under the covers," he said. "What this is going to do is prevent the tracking (of users)."
Cookies are small bits of information that can be placed onto the hard drive of a Web site visitor. They often are used to track a user's Web surfing habits. Third-party advertisers also often place cookies to better target consumers based on their online profiles.
The update will first be beta tested by consumers, corporate users and industry partners. Following their feedback, Microsoft plans to release a public beta within four weeks, it said in a statement.
The new browser includes:
-- Consumer notification for cookies. The section presents a discussion on first- and third-party cookies. The cookie notification default setting will prompt a user any time a third-party persistent cookie -- one that remains on a consumer's hard drive for an extended period -- is being sent to a user's machine. The default response for all cookie confirmation prompts is for the cookie to be accepted.
-- Cookie control in the form of a "delete all cookies" button that has been added on the primary Internet options page.
-- A help section of new topics that more specifically address cookies and cookie management.
As Internet privacy issues and awareness of how companies are using cookies increases, Barry Parr, director of consumer electronic-commerce research for International Data Corp., said users will demand cookie control.
"I think that anybody that doesn't want their movement tracked is going to want some sort of cookie control," Parr said.
Microsoft's browser competitor, Netscape Communications Corp., has placed cookie controls in its latest browser, Netscape 6.0, Parr said.