Friday, August 6, 2010

WSJ and re-reporters miss point on IE In-private Filter

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled "Microsoft Quashed Effort to Boost Online Privacy" on Microsoft's internal struggles about how to implement their "In Private Filter." Tech news sites picked up and re-reported the story - a few examples are and - and failed to add the important point that others browsers released the same or similar features first. According to Wikipedia, in Safari's case, their private browsing feature was released several years in advance of IE8 while Google's own Chrome browser had the feature at version 1.0 in late 2008. Microsoft didn't release the feature with IE8 until March 2009, though it had been in the prior Beta releases.

Despite the WSJ's extensive documentation of Microsoft's internal wrangling, this story about Microsoft "quashing" their In-Private filter sounds trumped-up and hypocritical of the other browser companies. IE8's InPrivate Filtering is comparable to Google Chrome's Incognito Mode (lovingly known as "Porn mode") feature. Neither of them have the setting stick - you have to manually enable it with every launch of all browsers on the market (and Mozilla's Firefox followed suit with version 3.5 later in 2009).

MS enables essentially the same feature in the same way - late to the market, as usual - and suddenly, over a year later, the WSJ is crying foul because Microsoft also does online advertising on the side. Did everyone forget that Google is the world's biggest online advertising company? The only news here is how long after Apple and Google released private browsing it took MS to release the same feature in IE8. MS has certainly played catch-up with IE8 but they have no greater conflict of interest than their competitors. In fact, I'd say Google has a far greater conflict of interest with Chrome since they purchased Doubleclick, the world's largest online ad tracking service at the time. Google passed up the same opportunity to do something potentially good for the consumer by making private browsing the default.

Now that the timeline is far enough along that most of us have forgotten who came first, the WSJ releases an article critical solely of MS mentioning Chrome and Firefox in the article, but not that they each have similar features. I'm no Microsoft apologist, but I don't think all this FUD is warranted by their implementation of what is essentially a catch-up feature. I would have hoped that either the "real journalists" at the WSJ or the tech-focussed blogosphere would have picked up on the discrepancy before passing along the story with such a conspiratorial bent.