Microsoft Slams Google Privacy Changes With “Putting People First” Ad Campaign

Last September, Google CEO Larry Page warned Google’s biggest threat was Google itself. His words are ringing true, as Google arch-nemesis Microsoft is seizing on Google’s recent missteps to score some points through a newspaper ad campaign that pitches Microsoft’s products as treating customers better than Google’s do.

The ads — running in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and USA Today — suggest that Google’s forthcoming privacy policy changes are designed to put Google’s interests over that of its customers. A related blog post also indirectly raises issues about Google’s new Search Plus Your World results.

“Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a number of decisions that Google has made that have caused people to pause and think about their relationship with Google,” said Microsoft corporate communications chief Frank X. Shaw. “That’s why we decided to run some ads. To say, ‘Hey, we have a different point of view, and you should check out these services. They don’t come with the same set of trade-offs’.”

Below, a look at the ad campaign, the related Microsoft blog post, how Google gave Microsoft this unprecedented opportunity to attack Google on this front, plus a reality check on the claims.

The Ad Campaign

The ads run today, tomorrow and Friday. Here’s copy of the ad, which Microsoft sent me. You can click to enlarge it, and the text is also further below:

The ad says:

Google is in the process of making some unpopular changes to some of their most popular products. Those changes, cloaked in language like “transparency,” “simplicity” and “consistency,” are really about one thing: making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say or stream while using one of their services.

But, the way they’re doing it is making it harder for you to maintain control of your personal information. Why are they so interested in doing this that they would risk this kind of backlash? One logical reason: Every data point they collect and connect to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser.

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.

If these changes rub you the wrong way, please consider using our portfolio of award-winning products and services….

The Blog Post

The ad ends by naming four Microsoft products, exactly as the Microsoft blog post about the campaign does, after a different introduction:

During the last week or so, there has been a fair amount of discussion about how Google is making some unpopular changes to some of its most popular products. You can see some of the concerns and worries about lack of choice and so on in these links.

When we read the coverage last week, it was clear people were honestly wrestling with the choices that had been made for them and were looking for options or alternatives.

The changes Google announced make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information. We take a different approach – we work to keep you safe and secure online, to give you control over your data, and to offer you the choice of saving your information on your hard drive, in the cloud, or on both.

So, if the news about Google has you feeling frustrated, or concerned, or both, we have some great, award-winning alternatives:

  • Hotmail: Join the hundreds of millions of people who enjoy not worrying about the content of their private emails being used to serve ads.
  • Bing: The search engine that gives you great experiences using the whole web.
  • Office 365: The award-winning online collaboration solution for businesses who don’t want their documents and mail used to benefit advertisers.
  • Internet Explorer: The world’s most popular browser, now with Tracking Protection, offering controls over your privacy as you browse.

And to help remind people of these alternatives, we’re placing a series of ads in some major newspapers this week.

If you haven’t tried these Microsoft products and services, give ‘em a shot.  If you’ve tried them before and moved on, come on back.  We’ve left the light on for you.  :)

The Opportunity

Do Microsoft’s accusations measure up? I’ll get back to that. Far more important is that Google has put itself in the position of even giving Microsoft an opportunity to raise accusations like this at all.

If Microsoft had tried this type of campaign a month ago, I think plenty of people would have laughed off the idea that Microsoft was somehow looking out for its customers more than Google. Maybe that will still happen today. But Google’s in a weaker position now.

That’s because January, rather than April, has proven to be the cruelest month for Google — and largely through Google’s own doing.

The Search Plus Your World release raised serious questions about whether Google’s search results pages were being used to promote its Google+ social network in ways that hurt relevancy. It also called into question Google’s overall fairness.

The move sparked huge debate, which Google largely ignored until last Friday, when Google search chief Amit Singhal spoke at length about reaction to the changes. But by then, faith in Google had taken another body blow.

Last week, Google announced that its privacy policy would change, to allow it the right to share data between its various properties in ways that its current set of more than 70 different privacy policies don’t allow.

It took only two days for Google to get a letter from members of the US Congress asking for clarification about the new privacy changes. Plenty of headlines painted a negative picture of the move. It was anything but beautiful and simple experience that Google’s been talking about wanting to deliver recently.

I’ve covered Google since the company started, and these two body blows to its image so close together are fairly unprecedented.

The big upset in April 2004 over Gmail ads was largely offset by Google’s overall reputation as having worked to benefit users. When Google announced in January 2006 that it was going to censor Chinese search results, outrage in some quarters was countered by Google having been the lone search engine to stand-up to the US Justice Department’s demand for search logs.

But this past month, it has felt a continual stream of bad news. Google began January by penalizing itself for being involved in an unsavory ad campaign. It also had to apologize for raiding the listings of a Kenyan business directory. Last week, new details about how Google helped online pharmacies sell drugs illegally in the US were aired in the Wall Street Journal.

In its favor, Google could point to its staunch fight this month against the anti-piracy SOPA & PIPA bills as a sign that the “Don’t Be Evil” company of old was still doing business as usual. However, for some (say Rupert Murdoch and his powerful friends), that was further proof that Google was still the evil copyright-infringing, piracy-promoting company it always was.

In the end, I’ve seen numerous people in the tech press shaking their virtual heads wondering at what’s seemed some very odd moves from Google. I’ve been one of them. That’s made the ground ripe for Microsoft to harvest some potential anti-Google anger.

The Reality Check

But do the planned privacy policy changes by Google really give its users less control over their data than they currently have and less control than Microsoft provides? Those are two key claims Microsoft is making. Again, from its blog post:

The changes Google announced make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information.

We take a different approach – we work to keep you safe and secure online, to give you control over your data, , and to offer you the choice of saving your information on your hard drive, in the cloud, or on both.

And also from my conversation with Shaw:

“There’s actually a philosophical difference. When you boil it down, Google really only has one customer, and that’s its advertisers,” Shaw told me.

In contrast, Shaw said, Microsoft has customers who are advertisers, as well as customers who are consumers, small businesses and big businesses who purchase its products directly. Even those who use a free, ad-based service like Bing are thought of differently, he said. “We don’t just view them as inventory but as customers who buy our stuff.”

There’s no doubt that Google’s changes will give it the ability to share data between its properties more easily. But as I wrote before, that doesn’t mean Google just suddenly starts using these newly-gained rights. For example, Google isn’t now going to use search history as a way to improve “remarketing.”

Also called “retargeting,” this is when someone is targeted with ads from a particular advertiser as they surf different sites across the web. Currently, what you search for on Google is not used as a way for advertisers to target you. Potentially, the new privacy policy could allow this. However, it still won’t, Google says.

Let’s say, however, that Google did. This means that Google users would have no way to opt-out, if you believe many of the headlines you’ve read. But that’s not correct. You can opt-out in two different ways. First, you can opt-out of targeted ads using the Google Ads Preferences page. You can also disable having your searches logged through the Web History settings page.

These controls aren’t being removed as part of the privacy policy change, nor are many of the other controls that Google offers.

What Google is doing also doesn’t seem that different from what Microsoft already appears to do, in general. Consider that Microsoft’s Bing search engine has its own privacy policy. What’s that policy tell me about how my search history might be used to retarget me with ads across the web? I’m told to read the master Microsoft Online Privacy Statement to discover that.

In turn, that policy tells me to read the Microsoft Advertising Privacy Supplement, where I learn that Microsoft has the right to use my search history to target me with ads as I surf the web. I can opt-out, of course, using a page similar to that which Google offers. I can also clear my search history in a way that’s similar to what Google offers.

Like Google, Microsoft probably already has many rights to share data between its various services that I’m simply not aware of. The privacy policy for the basic Windows Live account you need for most individual Microsoft online products certainly implies that signing-up for one product gives sharing rights to another:

In order to offer you a more consistent and personalized experience in your interactions with Microsoft, information collected through one Microsoft service may be combined with information obtained through other Microsoft services.

We may also supplement the information we collect with information obtained from other companies. For example, we may use services from other companies that enable us to derive a general geographic area based on your IP address in order to customize certain services to your geographic area.

Whether Microsoft’s various privacy policies give more or less rights than Google’s forthcoming one is quite possibly an impossible task for anyone to properly measure, given how open-ended they all seem to be.

Even if you could itemize all the rights in the privacy policies, there still remain controls that users have with services at both Google and Microsoft which may prevent information from being logged or shared.

Google’s Big Mistake

As I look at all this, where Google seems to have gone terribly wrong is moving forward with a new privacy policy that gives it new rights without a corresponding system that illustrates all the current controls that users have to limit those rights.

It’s sort of like when the US Constitution was created. It gave the new federal government many powers. The Bill of Rights was created with it to help reassure citizens and state governments that the federal government wasn’t all powerful.

The new Google privacy policy is like a new constitution that rules Google users, and the goal of having one (or at least fewer) governing documents that are easy to understand is admirable.

But in creating this new constitution, Google has done a poor job illustrating what constrains its powers. It does have the Google Dashboard, which displays much of the data Google has gathered about particular users, so those users can review, delete or exert control, to some extent. This is also something that, to my knowledge, Microsoft has nothing to match.

Correction: A reader alerted me to the Microsoft Personal Data Dashboard Beta that provides something similar to the Google Dashboard.

However, the Google Dashboard doesn’t highlight much of the cross-property sharing that happens within Google now, nor ways it can be prevented, for those who might be concerned. Again, Microsoft may have exactly the same issues or worse. But Microsoft didn’t suddenly change from having articles that govern a confederation of seemingly independent properties to a constitution that unites everything under one company. So, Microsoft — like many Google rivals — isn’t coming under the same scrutiny.

Perhaps this perspective will be reassuring to some who have heard about the Google privacy changes already and may be worried. Perhaps it will reassure some who hear about them through the new Microsoft ads. But there’s no getting around that’s it’s not reassuring that Google didn’t already anticipate these type of concerns from the beginning.

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 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.

Postscript: Google has responded. See our follow-up story, Google “Myth Busts” Microsoft’s Privacy Claims. Also see No, You Don’t Need To Fear The Google Privacy Changes: A Reality Check

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features & Analysis | Google: Business Issues | Google: Legal | Google: Privacy | Legal: Privacy | Microsoft: Business Issues | 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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn

Marketing Day:

Get the top marketing stories daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Nikolaj Landrock

    Great article! I totally agree, the problem is not doing what was done, the problem is that there was not taken precautions to maintain the state of mind that Google users have been doctrined with. (aka. Trust us)

  • John Pope

    Sober analysis, articulated succinctly.

    Final paragraph, I think sums it up perfectly: “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.”

    Well done, Danny.

  • Ken Saunders

    What’s sad is that the amount of people who are actually concerned about, or that take the time to understand privacy issues is small when compared to the total amount of users for any of Google’s, Microsoft’s, or any other company’s products and services.
    It isn’t until the media starts saying that things may be or are fishy and others pick that up through trending topics, etc that average users take notice. That is of course, if someone isn’t juggling kittens on YouTube.

    One of the main reasons is more than likely the fact that these companies make privacy polices and TOS’s  so complicated, and make it so users have to go on odd follow the links journeys (like you mentioned) that more often than not do not satisfy anyone’s concerns when they reach the end.

    A veteran such as yourself still doesn’t have a comprehensive understanding of Google’s or Microsoft’s policies, so there’s no way an average end user is going to even begin to wrap their heads around it all. Even with great and informative articles like this one, we still have to go and research things for ourselves.

    As far as Microsoft, I can’t recall such an aggressive approach happening. Not in the past few years. From a marketing stand point, they’re doing the right thing by being opportunistic. I mean, who wouldn’t. I’m not sure what ground they have to stand on. They could be being totally hypocritical, but it is still a wise move (again, as far as marketing).

  • Ciaran

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the differences between the policies (which are hard to honestly evaluate) I think this is a short term move by Microsoft that will only play into the hands of the legislators who think all tracking for advertising is bad.

  • Anonymous

    If anyone else besides Microsoft was running this ad it would make sense. But a company that won’t let me even change my gamer tag without charging me $10 is not where I want to run for shelter when the google bomb drops.

  • Anonymous

    Google should give an opt-out which will expire in one year. Targetted ads are a win-win. If a user really doesnt want to be tracked he should opt out from google services tracking once every year.

  • Luis Galarza

    Someone have to win over all this data control… Facebook started the race, Google follow in a attempt to have more marketing data to offer to their advertisers… In the other hand is true that for Microsoft Bing is just another stream of income and this give them the ability to offer better policies to their web users. Let see who will take the front road on this race by the end of this year!

  • Luis Galarza

    Molses, I have to agree with you, having an ‘opt-out’ option for users can bring the cool back to Google, but like I said in my comment below, Google wants to gain more data control so it can offer better service to its advertisers and take back its PPC market share from top competitor Facebook!

  • Danny Sullivan

    I feel your pain. I’ve had to pay that fee myself :)

  • erik yuzwa

    Who better to comment on confusing marketing practices than Microsoft Marketing?

  • Carl Belken

    I had a hotmail account that was stolen even though I had a strong password. Getting help from microsoft is a joke. Their help pages take you around in circles. I filed for account recovery and provided all the info they asked for. They keep sending e-mails back that say I did not send enough info. Had an actual live person read them my account would have been recovered. That’s OK. I’ll just stick with Google. I like g-mail better anyway.

  • Александр Саглаев

    Спасибо,статья супер посмотрите мой блог может подскажите как его улучшить советы пишите в коменты.

  • Steve Pederson

    I’ve decided to go google free. It wasn’t the privacy changes as much as google plus. The combination of all my web behavior being correlated with my social networking (in other words very real) identity was just too creepy for me. Why not just avoid g+? Well I am avoiding it today. But one joins social networks for social reasons–I left myspace for fb because my friends did. So if my world moves to g+ I will too. And just in case I want to deny google my other data.

    Here’s the thing I discovered: going google free is actually kinda fun. It feels good. But don’t go MS… find the other companies out there. There are lots of choices on the web. And not going with the big market leader who everyone uses by default feels nice. Okay, so maybe mapquest is part of AOL. It still feels fresh and different. Duck Duck Go was started by ONE GUY who simply promised not to track you. You’ve gotta love that. The web is an open and free place. It’s easy to just say no to google.

  • sixstorm1

    Having a strong password doesn’t prevent an attacker from stealing the password from you, keylogging you, or from you writing your password in a fake Hotmail site. If your Hotmail account was hacked, it is because someone got your password in a certain way without you knowing it They did not stole your account by hacking Microsoft’s servers, this is impossible. Also, keep in mind that Hotmail is a free service, so they do not have to provide support, and Gmail’s help is much more terrible. Chances from getting help from a real person is close to none.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Marketing Land on Twitter @marketingland Like Marketing Land on Facebook Follow Marketing Land on Google+ Subscribe to Our Feed! Join our LinkedIn Group Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Marketing News!

Marketing Day is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!