Cookie curbs

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Microsoft corp. has come up with a way for Web users to turn off cookies from third-party ad servers, and the Internet ad community is alarmed. In our view, however, Microsoft is taking a bold and welcome step to advance consumer privacy -- one that can help build an Internet to meet the needs of both consumers and marketers.

It's easy to bash Microsoft for its arrogance, its monopolistic tendencies and its glitchy software. But in this case, Microsoft merits praise. Who knows? Maybe Microsoft and rival America Online, owner of the Netscape browser, will duke it out to see who's the king of privacy. That's a battle worth fighting.

The new feature in Microsoft's Internet Explorer -- the dominant Web browser -- will prompt users when a third-party cookie is served. Consumers also will be able to lock out all third-party cookies -- bad news for outfits such as DoubleClick, which use cookies to track users for the purpose of sending targeted banner ads.

A consumer deserves to know when a site allows an outside force to imbed a tracking cookie on the user's hard drive. Microsoft's action casts a light directly on this shadow marketing. It need not be the end of third-party ad serving. Rather, the onus is on Net ad partisans to show consumers why targeted ads and consumer profiling are good things. The DoubleClicks of the world must come up with solutions that balance the needs of -- and deliver value to -- advertisers and consumers.

Microsoft is looking to add more privacy-enhancing features to Internet Explorer this fall. "It's an enormous commitment to advancing consumer protection," says a Microsoft executive. Good move.

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