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Microsoft Wages War With Google Over Privacy Policy

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“Don’t be evil” has long been Google’s (GOOG) motto, so it was no surprise when the technology behemoth was slammed these past few weeks over privacy policy changes that seemed, well, a little evil.
Ever quick to pounce on a perceived chink in the armor, Google’s arch-rival, Microsoft (MSFT) this week launched an advertising blitz, titled “Putting People First,” which asserts that Google’s privacy policy changes show that it prioritizes the interests of advertisers over customers.

“To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to improve the quality of an advertising product. But, that effort needs to be balanced with continuing to meet the needs and interests of users. Every business finds its own balance and attracts users who share those priorities. Google’s new changes have upset that balance, with users’ priorities being de-prioritized. That’s why people are concerned and looking for alternatives,” the ad copy reads, before it asks customers to consider Microsoft’s suite of services like Hotmail and Bing.

Here’s a copy of the ad, which is running in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today for three days.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Yesterday afternoon, just half a day after the ads were first published, Google posted a reply on its public blog, refuting Microsoft’s claims point by point.
  • Myth: Google’s Privacy Policy changes make it harder for users to control their personal information. [Microsoft]
  • Fact: Our privacy controls have not changed. Period. Our users can: edit and delete their search history; edit and delete their YouTube viewing history; use many of our services signed in or out; use Google Dashboard and our Ads Preferences Manager to see what data we collect and manage the way it is used; and take advantage of our data liberation efforts if they want to remove information from our services.
  • Myth: Google is changing our Privacy Policy to make the data we collect more valuable to advertisers. [Microsoft]
  • Fact: The vast majority of the product personalization Google does is unrelated to ads—it’s about making our services better for users. Today a signed-in user can instantly add an appointment to their Calendar when a message in Gmail looks like it’s about a meeting, or read Google Docs within their email.
  • Myth: Google reads your email. [Microsoft]
  • Fact: No one reads your email but you. Like most major email providers, our computers scan messages to get rid of spam and malware, as well as show ads that are relevant to you.
  • Myth: Microsoft’s approach to privacy is better than Google’s. [Microsoft]
  • Fact: We don’t make judgments about other people’s policies or controls. But our industry-leading Privacy Dashboard, Ads Preferences Manager and data liberation efforts enable you to understand and control the information we collect and how we use it—and we’ve simplified our privacy policy to make it easier to understand. Microsoft has no data liberation effort or Dashboard-like hub for users. Their privacy policy states that “information collected through one Microsoft service may be combined with information obtained through other Microsoft services.”
Marketingland’s Danny Sullivan has posted a fact check of both Microsoft’s claims and Google’s claims, as it turns out that both companies are correct in their own ways. For example, Microsoft’s assertion that Google reads your email is correct, but it’s completely automated like the spam filter Hotmail runs.

The public relations fiasco Google has encountered in 2012 thus far is not so much about the substance of its policy changes, but the way it went about implementing them without providing better clarification for users.

As Sullivan writes:

Bottom line. Google has long had a “trust us” type of attitude, in my view, because the company has internally viewed itself as fighting to do the best for its users. It has defined itself as not being “evil” in the way it has viewed other companies acting, Microsoft in particular during Google’s first decade, Facebook and Apple (AAPL) for being “closed” more lately.
But Google is no longer the scrappy little underdog. It’s a huge, powerful company that many people will simply view as any other type of company — not to be particularly trusted. That means “trust us” no longer works, as an answer.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has posted a review of Google and Bing search engine alternatives, for those inclined to stick it to the man through a boycott.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.