Microsoft has launched a new anti-Google campaign that attacks the search giant on privacy grounds. The initiative focuses on Gmail, with Microsoft condemning Google for scanning people's Gmail messages in order to serve them contextual ads.
"Think Google respects your privacy? Think again," Microsoft says on Scroogled.com. The site, which urges people to try Outlook.com, goes on to say that Google examines emails emails for keywords in order to serve paid ads to Gmail users. "And there’s no way to opt out of this invasion of your privacy," the ad continues.
Since then, consumer concerns haven't gone away. If anything, they are increasing. Consider, just this week the London-based company Ovum reported that 68% of Web users across 11 countries would turn on a do-not-track command. Ovum also says that only 14% of Web users think that Internet companies "are honest" about how they use data. And last week, privacy company TRUSTe reported that 72% of smartphone users are more concerned about privacy now than last year.
Still, the timing of this particular criticism of Google seems odd, given that the company rolled out Gmail almost 10 years ago. While privacy advocates weren't happy when Google first unveiled the service, their concerns seemed to fade as more and more people started using Gmail. (It's worth noting that the legal issues have never been entirely resolved; the company currently faces privacy litigation stemming from Gmail's contextual ads. Still, advocacy groups and lawmakers who originally expressed concerns about the service long stopped complaining about it.)
In any event, the Scroogled campaign could prove dangerous for Microsoft, since the company doesn't have an unblemished record on privacy. Back in 2006, Microsoft (along with AOL) complied with a government subpoena for millions of search queries -- even though search queries sometimes contain users' names, financial data or other potentially sensitive information. Google successfully opposed the subpoena.
More recently, a coalition of advocates asked Microsoft to follow Google's lead and issue a so-called transparency report about requests by governments for information. Specifically, they urged Microsoft to detail the requests it receives for information about Skype users.