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Microsoft's IE8 Phones Home

On Friday, ComputerWorld reported that Microsoft went into defense mode over Internet Explorer 8’s "phone home" feature (Suggested Sites). Although the browser doesn’t claim to contact an alien race, it will suggest Internet sites based on URLs entered into the address bar by the end-user. Microsoft claims that the browser only sends limited information back to home base including the current URL, browser version, and "general locale information."

Cyra Richardson, a Microsoft principal program manager on the IE team, defended the latest public beta of IE8, but would not get into the specifics of what the data actually contains. “We want to be very accurate in the information we provide about what we capture, and that means going into the code,” she told the website. She stated that she would post an entry to the IE blog in the next few weeks that would address the issue.

But unlike Google’s Chrome browser, IE8 does not keep track of every keystroke entered into the address bar. In fact, the Suggested Sites feature transmits the entire, final URL once it enters into the browser’s History, and does not log and transmit cookies to Microsoft’s servers. Richardson claims that the data Microsoft logs "is actually pretty innocuous.”

Still, the information collected from IE8 remains in Microsoft’s hands for a good 18 months. Although IE8 strips the highly sensitive query string from the URLS before sending to Microsoft, what exactly the company does with this information remains a mystery. Naturally, cautious end-users are cocked and ready to retaliate against any corporation snooping in personal information, prominently usernames and passwords.

Currently Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 is available to download, but requires a valid installation of Windows XP, Vista, Server 2003 and Server 2008.