PressPass: What are cookies?
Purcell: Cookies are small bits of information that can be placed on a consumer's hard drive by the Web site a person visits; they are often used to capture data about online behavior for personalizing a site according to a consumer's preferences. A good example is a site that remembers your zip code to give you personalized weather information based on where you live. Cookies can also be placed on a machine by Web advertisers to determine when that machine is used to view a particular advertisement.
PressPass: What are third-party cookies?
Purcell: Cookies that are placed by a third-party could be used to measure Web advertising or to better understand Web usage and target advertising based on the resulting profiles.
PressPass: Are the cookies you are describing good or bad?
Purcell: Cookies are inherently neither good nor bad. They can serve many useful purposes and are a key component to the way the Web functions. This announcement is not a referendum on cookies; it is Microsoft's aim to provide more information to consumers about how cookies work, so that they in turn can decide if and how to use them.
PressPass: How do cookies help consumers?
Purcell: Cookies can save time. For instance, if a customer personalizes pages, or registers for products or services, a cookie helps the Web site remember who they are. The next time the visitor returns, the site knows to show them the information they requested.
PressPass: How do I know when I get a cookie?
Purcell: Internet Explorer is set up to allow the creation of cookies; however, you can choose to be prompted before a site puts a cookie on your hard disk, which gives you the option to accept or refuse the cookie. Or you can prevent Internet Explorer from accepting any cookies.
You can also specify different settings for different security zones. For example, you might want to allow Web sites to create cookies if they are in your Trusted sites or Local intranet zone, prompt you before creating cookies if they are in your Internet zone, and never allow cookies if they are in your Restricted sites zone. These features can be found under Tools/Internet Options/Security/Custom Level.
PressPass: Why are these new cookie features good for consumers?
Purcell: These new cookie-management features are significant because they will help consumers understand the purposes that different cookies serve. By understanding the different kinds of cookies that can be placed on their machines, people can better decide if and when they want to take advantage of the services cookies can offer.
PressPass: When will these features be available?
Purcell: The new cookie-management update is being released to more than 2,000 Windows beta testers in the form of a technical beta for Internet Explorer version 5.5 technologies. Following feedback from these testers, including privacy advocates and Web publishers and advertisers, Microsoft will release a public beta by the end of August.
PressPass: What exactly are the new features intended to do?
Purcell: The new cookie-management functionality will do several things:
Notify consumers of cookies. The new enhancements will present consumers with a balanced description of cookies and their uses, clearly differentiating between first- and third-party cookies. Additionally, any time a persistent third-party cookie -- the kind of cookie that remains on a consumer's hard drive for a specified period of time and came from a site different from the one the user is currently visiting -- is being served or read on a consumer's machine, a default setting will alert the consumer, who can then make the most informed decision about accepting that type of cookie. The default response for all cookie confirmation prompts is for the cookie to be accepted, though consumers can easily refuse the cookie.
Provide more information about cookies . In an effort to broaden consumer knowledge about cookies and how they can help consumers manage their information online, new help topics are added that specifically address cookies and cookie management. Also, new top-level items are added to the help menu to allow users quicker access to security and privacy information.
Provide additional controls over cookies. Consumers who decide not to receive any of the customization that cookies provide can now easily delete all cookies from their hard drive. This "delete all cookies" button has been added on the primary Internet Options page of Internet Explorer. At the same time, previous features that allowed users to delete cookies selectively have been maintained.
PressPass: How can I get the new features?
Purcell: You will be able to download the features from http://www.microsoft.com/ie/ . The new features require that you first download Internet Explorer version 5.5.
Purcell: Yes, cookies can allow Microsoft or MSN sites to learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't. This allows Microsoft to discard Web pages that aren't used, and focus efforts on information that is needed. Of course, if customers never register or leave personal information with Microsoft, then the server only knows that someone with a particular cookie has returned to the Web site. The customer is in charge of deciding whether Microsoft knows anything about him or her. But the more a customer tells us, the more Microsoft can help them find the information or products they want. On Microsoft.com, a customer can always edit any personal information they've provided by stopping at the Profile Center.
PressPass: Is Microsoft opposed to third - party persistent cookies?
Purcell: No, Microsoft is not opposed to the use of third-party persistent cookies. In fact, this is a primary business model of the Web, used by small, medium and large Web sites, including ours. For quite some time, we've been in discussions with our third-party advertising partners about the best way to combine full advertising services and promotional opportunities on the Web with consumers' desires to know how and when information is collected about them online. We share our partners' commitment to helping consumers understand that Internet services are free today due in part to the Web's business model, which is fueled by online advertising. We all want to educate, not alarm, consumers about cookies and to help them understand when benefits can be derived from cookies.
PressPass: Does Microsoft use third-party cookies?
Purcell: On some sites, Microsoft provides ads through third-party advertising services that serve third-party cookies. This is largely because some large companies choose to do all of their online advertising through third-party services.
PressPass: Won't these new cookie-management features hurt third-party advertisers?
Purcell: We believe more information and more consumer empowerment can only be beneficial for our customers. That's why we're committed to these enhancements. With these new features, consumers will have a much better understanding of how cookies are used by sites that are collecting information and tailoring pages to fit the consumer's preferences.
The cookie-management update is the first step in providing a comprehensive privacy solution, which will include technology based on the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) or Trust Labels that aid consumers in expressing their privacy preferences as they interact with Web sites. Microsoft is committed to working with consumers, Web publishers and advertisers, privacy advocates, and the government to achieve such a comprehensive solution.
PressPass: Do these features really protect privacy?
Purcell: At Microsoft, we're working to include privacy-enhancing technologies in our products, and we are constantly testing and improving them. Cookie management alone is not the answer to consumer privacy. That is why Microsoft is also working side-by-side with other industry participants to promote adoption of the P3P specification that can help consumers determine if the Webs sites they visit meet their privacy preferences. In June, Microsoft committed to building this privacy-enabling technology into our next version of Windows, code-named Whistler. Facilitating online privacy is a continuous process, and one that Microsoft is committed to for the long haul.