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Thread: Internet Explorer Suggested Sites & Bing Toolbar

  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2011

    Default Internet Explorer Suggested Sites & Bing Toolbar

    Not sure if you've seen the recent allegations of Microsoft's Bing search engine copying Google's search results. The experiment used both IE8 Suggested Sites (which defaults to "on" during setup) and Bing Toolbar.

    The main concern is not so much copying of a specific website, but the fact that the experiment shows that there has to be at least the following personal information being sent:
    • URLs
    • Content on the pages visited
    • What you actually clicked on!

    Given the nature of the information being transmitted, this is a huge privacy intrusion (much, much more so than e.g. a third party advertising cookie). It's all hidden in EULA's and the IE suggested sites at least is enabled by default during setup (and seems deliberately unclear so that most people will simply click "yes").

    Given all that, I think that it seems like a clear candidate for something to be disabled within SpyBot S&D.

    For IE8, the remedy would clearly be simply turning off Suggested Sites. Not sure what the Bing Toolbar remedy would be as I haven't got it installed (not sure if there's a setting to turn it off or not). I don't have the Google Toolbar installed either, but turning off its PageRank feature would also be recommended as it has the same sort of privacy issues.

  2. #2
    Esteemed Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005


    I just started the Bing Toolbar installation and the first thing it does once you launch the installer is display a page with 4 Additional options, all of which are defaulted as checked, but displayed clearly in the middle of the screen above the 'Install/Cancel' buttons.

    The 'Improve my experience' item indicates that you will be "allowing us to collect additional information about your system configuration, the searches you do, websites you visit, and how you use our software" amongst other info. There is a 'Learn more..." link at the end of this description that links to the following page which explains how to change this selection after the toolbar has been installed.

    Though it's been a while since I've installed Internet Explorer on a PC, I clearly recall that the Suggested Sites option was a separate prompt that also contained links to additional information, which in most cases I've chosen not to accept simply because I don't wish to experience the additional overhead this might cause while using the browser, not because of any concern about being tracked by Microsoft.

    The reality is that all of the search engines collect large databases of information about how and what people search for and use that information in aggregate to improve their data handling in the future. Any belief that you are not being tracked at all levels by everyone with the ability to do it is a pipe dream and quite simply foolish.

    All that these additional opt-in selections are doing is allowing a more direct collection of the data in ways that correlate them in a more organized manner. In this case they are still not specifically linked to you personally, and since the systems that collect and analyze them are huge and receive millions or even billions of data points daily, they were never intended for that purpose. They simply try to analyze the data and learn how people perform searches, what works well and what doesn't and then feed that understanding back into the future design of the system to improve the search process for everyone.

    Since the specific systems of Suggested Sites and Bing Toolbar are both opt-in and either require you to install an additional toolbar application or accept a non-default selection for Suggested Sites during the first start of Internet Explorer and either may also be deselected later from within the standard interface, I don't see where you see the problem?

    One final note: I highly doubt that any actual page content is being passed through the local client by either of these systems, since only the URL (possibly stripped of PII, this is common practice by Microsoft) and click selections are required. If the pages are public, the passing of this URL information to the Bing robots will be sufficient for the collection of page content. In fact, it's this fact that caused Google to erroneously make their original charge, since they jumped to a similar conclusion that "Microsoft is stealing our top search results" when in reality all they were doing is collecting the clicks (websites you visit) of users who had already accepted this option, regardless of how the original website URL was found.


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