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How to Optimize Internet Explorer 9 for Maximum Privacy

Use Internet Explorer 9? It may be sending your entire browsing history to Microsoft. Or, it may be automatically blocking tracking websites. It’s all in how you tweak Internet Explorer’s privacy settings.

Internet Explorer’s tracking protection is a standout feature, but suggested sites, the SmartScreen filter and search suggestions can leak your private information. Tracking protection isn’t enabled by default, so you’ll have to enable it for maximum privacy protection.

Suggested Sites

Internet Explorer 9 automatically sends your entire browsing history to Microsoft is suggested sites is enabled. Microsoft saves your browsing history and compares it against against other similar sites. Internet Explorer displays these similar sites as suggestions when you open the Suggested Sites folder on your favorites bar.

Don’t want Internet Explorer 9 sending every website you visit to Microsoft? Just click the gear-shaped Tools menu icon and select Internet Options.

From there, click over to the Advanced tab, locate the Browsing section in the list and uncheck the Enable Suggested Sites check box. Click OK and Internet Explorer will keep your browsing history private.

Tracking Protection

Internet Explorer 9 allows you to install custom tracking protection lists, which contain a list of scripts and other files that track you. Internet Explorer won’t load these files if you visit a page that uses them, preventing everything on the list from tracking you. Internet Explorer 9 also sends a “do not track” request when you have a tracking protection list enabled. At the moment, most websites will ignore the do not track request.

Internet Explorer 9 doesn’t have any tracking protection lists installed by default, so you won’t get any protection until you install one. Just click the Tools menu, point to Safety and select Tracking Protection to see the tracking protection lists you have installed.

Click the “Get a Tracking Protection List Online” link to see a gallery of available lists on Microsoft’s website.

Install a tracking protection list by clicking its Add button. Here we’re installing the EasyPrivacy tracking protection list. It’s maintained by the same people that work on the EasyList ad-blocking subscription for Adblock Plus.

Internet Explorer 9 will download an updated version of your tracking protection list once a week.

SmartScreen Filter

Internet Explorer 9’s SmartScreen filter helps keep you safe online by detecting known unsafe websites, but it does this by sending website addresses you visit to Microsoft. When you visit a website, Internet Explorer 9 checks a downloaded list of popular, safe websites. If the website you’re visiting doesn’t appear on the list, IE sends it to Microsoft, where it’s checked against a list of unsafe websites.

Be aware that Internet Explorer 9 won’t warn you about malicious websites if you disable this feature. If you still want to disable it, click the Tools menu, point to Safety and select “Turn Off SmartScreen Filter.”

Select the Turn Off option in the window that appears and click OK. You can still manually check a website by clicking the “Check this website” option in the Safety menu.

Search Suggestions

Internet Explorer’s search suggestions feature sends everything you type into your address bar to your default search engine. The search engine sends back related searches, which IE displays in a drop-down box.

Internet Explorer 9 uses a combined address bar and search box, so your default search engine will see website addresses you type if you have suggestions enabled. Disabling search suggestions is as easy as typing something into your address bar and clicking the Turn Off Suggestions link.

Cookies

Advertising networks and other websites often use cookies to track you online. You can adjust Internet Explorer 9’s cookie settings by clicking the Privacy tab in the Internet Options window.

Drag the bar higher to block other types of cookies. At the top-most position, websites won’t be able to save cookies at all, which will prevent you from logging into websites. Other settings may also cause problems with some websites; lower the slider if you encounter problems.


At this point, you should have IE9 locked down tight! Internet Explorer 9 can be one of the least private or most private browsers, depending on how you configure it.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/12/12

Comments (15)

  1. Evil Boy Genius

    Thanks Guys for this Great Article…..
    I love IE9….The experience is awesome man….

  2. Evil Boy Genius

    One thing I wanna Know – With the TRACKING PROTECTION installed will i’m going to face a decrement in browsing speed or not .

  3. Chris Hoffman

    @Evil Boy Genius

    I doubt it. To be honest, you’ll probably see an increase in browsing speed. IE9 won’t load the tracking scripts in the background; they tend to slow things down.

  4. Kyle

    @Evil Boy Genius
    Tracking Protection is already installed. It’s a part of the browser, which should make it a bit lighter than an add-on in other browsers, or at least no worse than one.
    And as Chris Hoffman mentions, it’ll prevent the loading of all of that extra stuff in the background.

    Between the EasyList filters, and ActiveX Filtering, it’s *almost* as effective a combo as Adblock and NoScript.

  5. Dan

    With Fanboy’s tracking protection lists for IE9, it will work as a de-facto adblocking system, as well as blocking tracking scripts.

  6. Karina Kaminski

    You need to be careful with Tracking Protection lists, they can allow sites freely as well as prevent them displaying. Also IE9 is set up so Allow takes priority over Prevent. If a site appears in more than one tracking list and is allowed in one but disallowed in the other then the Allow option is the one that is used. DO NOT add the TRUSTe TPL, it is made up entirely of allowed advertizing sites which although they are deemed to behave responsibly will still track you. If you don’t believe me read what TRUSTe have to say – http://tracking-protection.truste.com/

    Also IE9 operates by means of whitelists. You are in most cases better off blocking everything – cookies, ActiveX javascript and just adding sites to the relevant whitelist when needed on a case by case basis.You will be surprised how few sites actually need cookies to work properly. As Mr. Geek says, you’ll need cookies enabled to remember log-ins but only if your browser doesn’t remember this for you.You don’t need third party cookies enabled at any time.

  7. Chris Hoffman

    @Karina Kaminski

    Thanks, that’s very interesting information about the tracking protection lists.

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  10. ELECTRON BOY

    Thanks, that’s very interesting information about the tracking protection lists.

  11. Scott

    How does InPrivate Browsing compare with doing all these?

  12. Chris Hoffman

    @Scott

    Interesting question. InPrivate Browsing is more of a short-term thing to prevent data from from being saved on your own computer. So cookies, history and searches won’t be saved.

    IE will still use the SmartScreen filter (not necessarily a bad thing, but users should make informed choices.) Tracking scripts will also continue to load, but they’ll be hindered because they’re not allowed to save any information. Still, they can track you by your IP address.

  13. Sandra

    As always, your articles are superb! Thank you for such clarity and simple instructions. Make it very easy to share your things out to the World! :) A delight to share, also :)

  14. HTG Reader

    Lol, you can download the best fix for Internet Explorer (all versions) at one of these sites:

    mozilla.com
    ubuntu.com

    Or get a slightly (*cough*) more expensive fix for all Microsoft products at:

    apple.com

    ;-)

  15. Ed Stewart

    Install Linux!

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