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Microsoft: Ad Dollars Are More Important Than Your Privacy

You've got to hand it to Microsoft. And if you don't hand it to them, they'll just come and take it. An article in the Wall Street Journal details how Microsoft made a decision to throw away your privacy in return for money from advertising companies. According to the article, a "heated debate" ensued when developers worked to make Internet Explorer keep your private data away from the prying eyes of online advertisers.

In brief, product planners for the IE 8.0 browser wanted to give users a simple, effective way to avoid being tracked online. They developed some interesting and effective code that (unlike many features in Explorer) actually worked. And it worked very well. In fact, it worked so well that the product planners were overruled by Microsoft executives who whined bitterly, and who complained that giving automatic privacy to consumers would make it harder for them to profit from selling online ads.

You can probably guess what happened, can't you? What happened was that Microsoft ended up deliberately crippling the browser, forcing users to jump through hoops to turn on privacy settings every single time they open the browser. In other words, at Microsoft, when it comes to your privacy and security versus money, the money wins.

In fact, Microsoft did such a good job hiding the privacy settings, that according to Simon Davies, a privacy-rights advocate in the U.K. whom Microsoft consulted while forming its browser privacy plans, "Most users of the final product aren't even aware its privacy settings are available". Now that's innovation!

Microsoft's top attorney, Brad Smith, released a statement about the decision to cripple the privacy features in Explorer. Mr Smith says the company tried to accommodate both points of view about privacy "in a way that advanced both the privacy interests of consumers and the critical role advertising plays in content."

It's a wonderfully classic example lawyer-speak, and what it means in English is, "you lose, we want the money". Saying that Microsoft's decision "advanced the privacy interests of consumers" is like saying that  the Titanic stopped for ice.

Remember, back in 2007 Microsoft bought the Web-ad firm aQuantive for more than $6 billion. The stated goal was to build a business in selling ads online. So when it comes down to "what's good for" you versus "what's good for Microsoft", have no doubt as to which way things will turn out. With Microsoft, your privacy is for sale to the highest bidder.

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