In the continuing war between Google and Microsoft, which was entirely one-sided until Google pulled Exchange support from their free Google Apps, we’ve been hand-delivered another stinging campaign from Microsoft which, in reality, is just a little bit of a scam itself. Neither party is innocent when it comes to using your email for targeted ads.
First of all, I’d like to declare that I’m not commenting in this way because the campaign is by Microsoft or because it’s against Google. If Microsoft wants to make a valid complaint about something Google does, then they should, even if it does take some of the comparitively massive ad budget (instead of going into improving products, but okay). The problem with the new Scroogled ad campaign is that, as well as being deceptive, it’s also a bit of a lie.
First of all, check out the ad for yourself which is showing on Scroogled.com.
There’s a shorter ad that looks set to air on US television, however the ad above is what Microsoft is hoping people will see.
Microsoft is right: Google’s ad robot, which is the same ad robot used on every site with AdSense (even this one) does scrape the email. It also does match it to keywords. But the deception begins with Microsoft’s representation of this robot: blue eyes, reading your email. In truth, nobody at Google personally reads your emails. If they did, it would be inefficient and pointless. Google can already just match it automatically without a human touching it. It’s just a lie of the campaign, set to scare users into using Outlook instead of actually warning them. And people have a right to be worried about this, except for one little fact that might just get in the way of Microsoft’s story.
And that is that Microsoft actually scans your email for ads too, instead only scanning the Subject line (Forbes source). And while the body of an email is different to a subject line, the truth is that, as the ad says, Microsoft also goes through subject lines of a husband and wife, or two best friends. They also go through your Bing searches. So your privacy is still, as the ad would infer, ‘invaded’ by a robot, even if it is in a smaller way.
While the ad isn’t exactly lying, despite its deceptive intentions, the Scroogled.com page is. In a comparison box from the link ‘Get The Facts’, this is shown:
Next to the box ‘Uses words from your sent and received email messages to display ads,’ Google is portrayed as a villian, with pure Microsoft never selling any keywords for ads that match ANY content from your email. The next line is more acceptable, but Outlook still scans your mail for subject lines that match keywords. And the last box is just another free-addition for Microsoft, since I’ve never given Microsoft permission to scan my subject lines sent to others.
I know that, if you’re a Microsoft fan, you’re probably thinking ‘what a stupid claim, the subject line isn’t relevant’. But the problem is that Microsoft is willing to lie on Scroogled.com about how their email service works. And they’re also willing to show deceptive imagery in a political-campaign style ad against Google.
But the message is this: if you don’t want an anonymous robot near your 100% free email account, pay money. Because nothing is stopping Microsoft from copying Google if Outlook.com gets popular. And the fact that they already display personalised ads in Outlook shows that it isn’t that far-fetched.
Buy Google Apps, buy Office 365, set-up your own email server or use an alternative, paid service. If you really think that Google or Microsoft care about your email and sell it, then don’t get Scroogled and don’t get Microshafted. Nobody is innocent with privacy, and Microsoft surely isn’t winning any fans by pretending their users are morons. The only effect it has on me is one which makes me not wish to use Outlook.