Microsoft has announced the availability of its cookie management feature for Internet Explorer 5.5. The feature gives users the options of deleting cookies as an added form of privacy.

The product has been beta tested and now all consumers can download the cookie control feature from the Microsoft Web site

The new privacy additions include a button that gives the user the option to "delete all cookies" and a pop-up box that informs the user of a third-party cookie arrival.

The product will also give the consumer a description of a cookie and explain the difference between a first-party cookie, which comes from the Web site the user is visiting, and a third-party cookie, which comes from an outside source, such as an advertiser, that has a contract with the host site.

A cookie is a small piece of information that records data regarding a user's consumer preferences that a site can download to a server.

Andrew Shen, a policy analyst at the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington, said it's encouraging that Microsoft is introducing new technology to protect consumers' privacy, but added that more needs to be done.

"We also need legal restrictions on what information companies can extract," he said. "What we really need are laws and aggressive enforcement to assure that all companies are protecting consumer privacy."

"Microsoft is working to encourage more industry collaboration and responsibility [with privacy issues]. With all of our partners, we encourage them to have comprehensive privacy policies on their sites," said Microsoft spokeswoman Tanya Klause.

"So that's one way we encourage the industry to step up to the plate." Microsoft is also participating in the ongoing policy debates with the government to educate and protect consumers' privacy, she added.