Microsoft vice president Dean Hachamovitch unveils Internet Explorer 9 Beta version in San Francisco
Microsoft said its release candidate (RC) of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) have hit 2 million downloads, just few days after its launch. REUTERS

Microsoft is adding new privacy features to Internet Explorer 9, in part as a response to the concerns raised about tracking online behavior.

In a Q&A published on Microsoft's web site, Vice President Dean Hachamovitch, head of Internet Explorer development, said, With all of the discussion both coming out of the [Federal Trade Commission] and elsewhere in the world about the role of browsers in the privacy space, we wanted to share our approach to protecting people from online tracking now so that the various stakeholders could provide feedback and could begin building lists before the feature ships in the release candidate of Internet Explorer 9.

The FTC recently proposed that Congress pass laws restricting tracking of online behavior by advertisers. The advertisers, meanwhile, have said they would rather self-regulate.

The new privacy features include a Tracking Protection List, which prevents information from being sent to the addresses on that list.

While most people are familiar with cookies, which are blocks of text that identify one's computer to a web site, many don't realize that third-party sites can also gather information, sometimes without leaving a visible trace. Flash cookies, for example, aren't visible to users unless they seek them out on Adobe's web site and erase them.

The new feature is a descendant of the privacy features in IE 8, Hachamovitch said. The difference is that the ability to erase one's history from the local computer does nothing to erase that history from the sites visited.

Common Sense Media, a privacy advocacy group, praised Microsoft's effort in a prepared statement from CEO and Founder James Steyer. We are glad to see that Microsoft is acknowledging what Common Sense Media has been saying all along, which is that privacy is an issue that consumers -- especially parents -- are very concerned about. This is a step in the right direction, but we still need new privacy laws in the United States that reflect the 21st century digital world we are living in, Steyer said.