IE9 beta Privacy

If you downloaded the Internet Explorer 9 beta, then the first thing you probably noticed just like me was how sparse the UI has become. It’s clean. It’s fresh. It’s missing something… Ah yes! My good old friend – the Search box!

One of the things I always liked about IE, and had issue with in some other browsers was the separate search box. Why would this matter? Well, all good search providers try to do their best to help user’s do one thing – find the information they’re looking for. And what helps a user get that information quicker than a dropdown list of suggestions.

Well, in order for this magic to work, a few things have to happen. Each time a user presses a key, the string being typed is sent to a web service that belongs to the configured search provider for the browser. Which search provider doesn’t matter, by default it’s Bing with IE, but an end user is able to change their default search provider to any search engine they prefer. In any case, as the user is typing, this remote service works on looking up common search suggestions to auto complete the text the user is entering, and returning the best results to the browser. The browser then displays these results in some sort of dropdown list below the textbox for the user to pick from…

Now, I don’t really have any issue with this, after all, you are entering text into the search box in order to send to a search engine in the first place. Either way, you are about to send this text to whichever search provider is configured. The problem I do have is that this search box is now integrated with the web address textbox. Now, anytime you type anything into the address, this information is being sent to your friendly neighbourhood search engine to be collectively or individually analysed for monetary gain (yes, search engines are businesses, and despite how some spin the truth, they only have one purpose – to make money).

So now whenever you decide to enter the address of your favourite website into the address bar, Google or Bing or whoever knows where you’re going. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to involve a third party every single time you decide to use the internet. Microsoft knows it, and in fact has used this as an argument NOT to use alternate browsers before. Microsoft argued specifically that Chrome did not respect your privacy by implementing the search suggestions in this way.

Such an about face is a little jarring in my opinion and makes me wonder what internal political struggle may be happening to sacrifice privacy for a cleaner interface. It wouldn’t be the first time another business unit in Microsoft influenced the bahaviour of an Internet Explorer feature. In fact, it would be the same business unit at work here…

I’ve always been an advocate of Microsoft technologies, especially since I make a living developing .Net software, but sometimes it’s a little difficult to defend their actions. I have no further comment besides recommending people disable the search suggestions in IE9 – simply to prevent these people from gathering more information than they are entitled to. Or switch to Firefox.