Case study: Microsoft and privacy as a differentiator

Microsoft is using privacy as a differentiator in a major attack on its rival Google.

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The technology company has launched a comprehensive online, television and print campaign in the US, taking aim at Google’s handling of users’ personal information.

The ‘Scroogled’ campaign has so far targeted Google Play, Gmail and Google Shopping in a five-month crusade that shows no sign of slowing. The campaign accuses Google of, among other things, scanning users’ emails for key words that will determine relevant ads to place alongside the messages. It also says it is sharing personal information that it gathers from people who buy applications that will run on Google’s android software, including names, email addresses and the neighbourhoods where users live.

It also claims that Google does not clearly warn users that this is happening.

The latest Scroogled ads, the third in the series, says: “If you can’t trust Google’s app store, maybe you shouldn’t trust Google for anything.” It then encourages users to try Microsoft’s own search engine Bing.

Another ad assures consumers that Windows Phone Store does not share any personally identifiable information with third-party app makers. Prominent tabs on the Scroogled website urge visitors to “Set Bing as Homepage” and “Explore Windows Phone” in a bid to encourage users away from Google.

Microsoft’s statement following this latest wave of the Scroogled campaign says:

“We don’t have any future plans to share at this time, but we believe that it’s important to educate the public about practices that are misleading and may harm consumers. This ‘Don’t Get Scroogled’ effort is focused on educating consumers about Google’s deceptive app store privacy practices.”

The Get the Facts section of the Scroogled website features research (commissioned by Microsoft) into how concerned Americans are over privacy issues, as well as quotes from experts and consumer protection groups on the issue.

“Scroogled will go on as long as Google keeps Scroogling people,” said Microsoft in another statement. “We know Google doesn’t like it when the facts come out. Chapter two of the consumer education campaign has shown people care about their privacy. More than 3.5 million people visited scroogled.com, and nearly 115,000 people signed a petition asking Google to stop going through their Gmail. Stay tuned for the next chapter.”

Google gave its response to the campaign in a statement: “Advertising keeps Google and many of the websites and services Google offers free of charge. We work hard to make sure that ads are safe, unobtrusive and relevant. No humans read your email or Google Account information in order to show you advertisements or related information.

An automated algorithm, similar to that used for features like Priority Inbox or spam filtering, determines which ads are shown.”

Some have labelled Microsoft’s campaign as anti-Google propaganda and a scare campaign, countering that ‘Don’t get Scroogled by Gmail’ is just an advertisement for Outlook.com, Microsoft’s new email service. There are fears that Microsoft’s tactics could backfire and make the brand seem nasty and desperate. “Why not just kick Google’s ass in the marketplace?” says weblog ReadWrite.

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