Google “Myth Busts” Microsoft’s Privacy Claims

google-g-logoThat didn’t take long. Google has reacted to Microsoft’s ad campaign that slams Google’s forthcoming privacy policy changes with a mythbusting blog post. Here’s a look at the myths Google says are out there, the facts it claims are true and my own fact checking of both Google and Microsoft. Short story? They both seem about the same on the privacy front.

The Google post actually tackles a few allegations beyond those that Microsoft made today, but I’ll focus on the Microsoft ones.

Hard To Control Personal Information?

Google wrote:

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.

Fact Check:

Microsoft is talking about Google’s privacy policy changes; Google is responding about its privacy controls. Those are two different things. Both are somewhat correct.

Google’s privacy policy change allows it to potentially share information across its services more easily than in the past. The mere fact that you allow for wider sharing makes things harder to control, simply because there’s more to control.

However, Google does maintain controls that can prevent things such as web history information from being shared. Those controls aren’t disappearing. So, the privacy policy change hasn’t somehow made it harder to use those controls or taken them away.

Privacy Changes To Help Advertisers?

Google wrote:

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.

Fact Check:

This is another case of them both being correct.

Google is a profit-making company, with the vast majority of those profits coming from advertising. When Google talked about the privacy policy changes last week, part of what it highlighted was that they’d allow for better ad targeting. Potentially, that’s nice for users. But it’s far bigger improvement for advertisers.

However, it’s perfectly accurate that Google isn’t solely doing these changes just for advertisers. In fact, I can recall at one point how Microsoft was highlighting how easy it was to drag content from its search engine into its Hotmail email system. That’s cross-platform data sharing that Microsoft is raising issues about with Google. Microsoft does the same, but no one runs ad campaigns taking the company to task over it.

Do People Read Your Email?

Google wrote:

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.

Fact Check:

Will I disappoint you when I say both are right, again?

Google is reading your email. It simply could not target ads to the content of your email without doing that.

But no human is reading your email at Google. It’s all automated, and as Google says, the same type of automated reading is also done by Microsoft when it runs a spam filter against your email on Hotmail.

Who’s Better On Privacy?

Google wrote:

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.”

Fact Check:

Who knows?

As I explained in my post earlier today, it’s extremely difficult to figure out all the things that are potentially covered even in Google’s forthcoming simplified privacy policy, much less the multipart ones that both it and Microsoft have.

Microsoft actually does have a Dashboard-like service, called Microsoft Personal Data Dashboard Beta. I didn’t realize this myself until a reader pointed it out to me today. But Google’s had one for longer, and it deserves real praise in pioneering efforts here.

The core issue is probably whether Google is somehow doing something radically different than what Microsoft does. I would say no.

Both seem to have fairly broad privacy policies that can be difficult to understand, which provide some rights to the companies for making use of data, some protections to their users and which can’t be fully interpreted independently from actual controls different products allow to let users control data.

Google’s Woes: New “Constitution” Invites Renewed Attention

If Microsoft and Google basically are doing the same thing, why’s Google taking all this flak? Why’s Microsoft setting itself up for allegations of the pot calling the kettle black?

Because as I explained before, Google’s new privacy policy is effectively like the company unveiling a new constitution for its users — one that didn’t properly explain how those users retain their protections in a variety of ways or can limit the rights of Google.

That’s caused confusion in both the tech and mainstream press, which has led to confusion in the US Congress and left Google having to defend itself over changes it thought people would appreciate.

Postscript: See my follow-up piece, No, You Don’t Need To Fear The Google Privacy Changes: A Reality Check.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Privacy | Legal: Privacy | Microsoft: Privacy | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • William Thigpen

    Hello Danny. I read this post and the earlier post also. I must say, I really didn’t understand what and why Microsoft was airing all the commercials they are until I read these posts. You did an awesome job on both of your articles and they were really informative on all fronts. When I read the first post, I was going to go and switch all my Google stuff over to Microsoft because it scared me really. But after I read this article, the first thing that came to my mind was that Microsoft has been around for a long time and they have been a “big business” for as long as people can remember really.They created probably the most widely used operating system on our computers. Yes there are a lot of Apple and Linux users out there but when someone goes out and buys a PC, the OS that is more then likely installed on it is Windows, which is Microsoft’s creation. All this privacy policy is doing is that it is making things a lot easier and simpler for not only the users of anything Google but also for Google themselves. The reason for the amount of backlash that Google is incurring due to this whole privacy policy change is that it is exactly that. It’s a change of some sort, it doesn’t matter how big or small it is, and most of the people out there do not like change. A lot of people look at and think of change as a bad thing and it’s very uncomfortable for a big percentage, so they would rather something stay the same and feel safe and comfortable instead of possibly having something that maybe advances our civilization a great deal. If it wasn’t for change, we would still be living in grass huts, hunting wildlife and foraging for food, and having a campfire as the source of light and heat. What is happening is that Google is becoming a big business now and it’s now too big to be run out of someone’s house. If you really look at what Google is doing with advertising this about changing their privacy policy, you really have to respect them somewhat for doing it. The reason I say you have to respect them is because no other company out there is telling people about this kind of big change and they are still thinking about their users. Ultimately what Google is doing right now is still making it about their users and trying to still have it where they can say “trust us.” Due to the fact they are trying to keep true to themselves and their users, they are suffering for it. We as people need to stand behind Google through this so that they don’t become just another big business/corporation. Thanks for the articles and have a great day.

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