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?
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.
Privacy Changes To Help Advertisers?
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.
This is another case of them both being correct.
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?
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.
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?
Myth: Microsoft’s approach to privacy is better than Google’s. [Microsoft]
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?
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.
- Anti-Google Graffiti, Steve Martin Joke: Signs Perceptions Of Google Changing For Worse?
- Microsoft Slams Google Privacy Changes With “Putting People First” Ad Campaign
- No, You Don’t Need To Fear The Google Privacy Changes: A Reality Check