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Industry Leaders Given a Snapshot of Cookie Management Tools in Forthcoming Versions of Major Browsers

December 2000

Industry self-regulation efforts aimed at giving consumers more control over the use of cookies embedded in web surfers' computers may take a great leap forward in 2001 following major announcements by the two leading browser companies. Netscape and Microsoft are developing new versions of their browsers that will enable consumers to exercise privacy preferences by accepting or rejecting cookies.

Cookies allow web publishers to customize the web user's experience and more effectively target advertising, but cookies have been at the center of major privacy debates this year. Some on Capitol Hill have called for all government sites to eliminate cookie use. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce have forged an agreement with the members of the Network Advertising Initiative to insure that consumers will soon have notice and choice as to all cookies employed for user profiling.

Microsoft Plans
The planned new Microsoft browser will allow users to enter only sites offering privacy notice and choice. Future Internet Explorer browsers will incorporate the Platform for Privacy Preference Protocol ("P3P"), long in development by leading industry technologists, academics and privacy policy groups. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and chief deputies Michael Wallent and Richard Purcell gave details of the plans during the company's SafeNet 2000 conference in Redmond, Washington on December 7.

The P3P standard will require all web publishers to use the P3P vocabulary and put the policy in the "compact headers" that are quickly readable by browsers. Once a user arrives at a site, an icon at the bottom of the screen will enable users to access the site's privacy policy according to user-selected criteria. Microsoft officials said the consumer tests led them to reject earlier plans to routinely give web surfers a warning for all "third party" cookies, and focus on cookie management techniques that were very easy to set and would not slow down the
consumer experience.

The Internet Explorer browser is currently used by both Microsoft and AOL, although AOL may shift to Netscape when its contract with Microsoft expires.

Netscape Innovations
In late November, an AOL team briefed members of the Online Privacy Alliance on the cookie management enhancements being incorporated in new versions of its Netscape browser. The Netscape 6 browser has a new cookie viewer to give users easier access to their cookie files, and enables users to set more detailed preferences on which cookies to accept or reject.

Netscape 6 cookie defaults are set to accept all cookies, but when a consumer uses the cookie manager to remove a cookie, the browser will not accept that cookie again. The browser also has a new "Forms Manager" and "Password Manager" that allow users to more easily manage web interactions. n

For additional information, please contact John Kamp (202/719-7216 or).