Microsoft’s “Scroogled” Campaign Against Gmail Wins 0.002% Of Users

It’s been a week since Microsoft went on the attack against Gmail, launching its “Scroogled” campaign portraying Gmail as a privacy monster that reads your emails for ad targeting purposes. How’s that been working out? To date, the Microsoft-backed petition against Gmail’s practices has gained about over 6,000 signatures — equal to about 0.002% of Gmail’s user base.

The Petition To Nowhere

At the Scroogled site, Microsoft invites people to sign an online petition. In the week it has been up, it’s gathered about 5,600 signatures:

That’s hardly an overwhelming response, especially considering that the Gmail user base is reported at between 300 million to 425 million users. Rounding up to 6,000 signatures, and using the lowest 300 million figure, means that potentially, 0.002% of Gmail users have used the petition to join Microsoft’s protest.

Of course, not all of those signing are Gmail users, as I’ll explain more below. And if Gmail has more than 300 million users, the percentage of Gmail users signing the petition would be even lower. But it’s already so tiny that give or take a million, ten million or even 100 million, it’s pretty clear Gmail users aren’t turning out to support this petition.

Microsoft’s goal is to reach 25,000 signatures. With it currently generating about 325 signatures per day, it might get there in another two months. The day-by-day chart:

If the goal was to really rally people to rise up against Gmail, I’d say the Scroogled campaign is a pretty big failure. Even a Scroogled ad I spotted airing on CNN after the State Of The Union didn’t reverse the decline on Tuesday. It has been down, down, down since the site’s first full day of operation, on February 7, until yesterday, when the signature count just barely moved higher than Tuesday.

To get the figures for the chart above, I went through the petition — “Sponsored by Anonymous” — and checked how many signatures had been recorded for each day.

Comments: From Crazy To Concerned

Far more fascinating than the numbers, however, is that sadly a lot of crazy and confused people — along with honestly concerned ones — seem to sign online petitions. This becomes clear as you read through some of the comments that were left.

Microsoft Has A Point

I didn’t — and couldn’t — read every comment. But I went through a number of pages to skim for ones that resonated in various ways. I’ll start with perhaps one that might get many people, even Google fans, nodding their heads in agreement:

This has been an issue for a while now, on my other gmail account, I sent an e-mail about my best friend passing from cancer, and you put up an ad of the American Cancer Society, THAT’S REALLY CROSSING THE LINE. — Name not displayed, NJ, #4975, 19:43, Feb 11

Gmail is supposed to avoid showing ads targeted to content that might be deemed inappropriate. Perhaps for some, an ad for a cancer charity triggered by an email about someone dying of cancer might be deemed relevant, maybe even useful. However, I think most people wouldn’t want to see ads around any email they get about someone they know dying.

By the way, after the comment is the person’s name (if given), their location, the signature number (this was the 4,975th person to sign the petition) and the date and time it was signed.

Goodbye Gmail!

There were a fair number of people who said they were leaving Gmail, such as these:

I didn’t know that google is reading my emails, i don’t trust them anymore. I’m closing my account with them. — Dr. Ahmed Jamal, Yemen, #2165, 04:39, Feb 08

I am migrating my mail email to something other than gmail. End of story. — Mr. Rod Segovia, TX, #4961, 18:57, Feb 11

Well, if that’s the way you’re gonna treat me, I might as well cancel both my Google accounts! You suck, Google! Trying to Scroogle us! — Mr. Richard Clifford, MA, #5130, 09:38, Feb 12

Threats To Leave

There were also people who clearly were upset by the Scroogled campaign but not upset enough to actually say they’d leave Gmail for Outlook. Instead, they seemed to believe signing Microsoft’s petition might get Google to drop ad targeting:

Please please, stop this.. or I’m switching to Outlook. — Name not displayed, Singapore, #108, 00:04, Feb 07

Google if you dont stop this, i will use outlook. — Mr. Nick Koletis, Greece, #142, 00:49, Feb 07

Im working on replacing all google services and Apps that I use untill they change there privacy policies. — tom bennett, ID, #149, 00:55, Feb 07

I have 2 email accounts with Google, one more personal the other for “business”. I have noticed ads that were related to my field of study and really don’t appreciate knowing that Google is going through my emails!!! I am upgrading my computer and was thinking of using Chrome but now I am considering deleting my Google accounts. — paula roberts, OH, #2424, 08:06, Feb 08

By the way, this is a good time to mention that any spelling or grammatical errors are shown exactly as they were on the petition.

You Wouldn’t Do This With Real Mail

Many people seemed to view that privately-run email providers were somehow equal to government-run postal services, which typically are prevented from opening mail except in some limited circumstances. Perhaps there’s some fodder for a lawmaker here, to provide better legal protection over email even run by private companies. Some comments:

I know I use gmail at work and at home, but looking through my email is just as bad as opening letters from my neighbor’s mailbox and selling him stuff based on what’s inside. It’s still wrong, and no amount of marketing dollars changes that. — Name not displayed, OK, #117, 00:20, Feb 07

If you open someone’s letter from their house mailbox, that is a crime. There is no difference between opening someone’s letter from the home mailbox and opening someone’s email from the inbox. Even the postman can’t just wantonly open my mail. I demand that google cease and desist this abhorrent practice immediatly. — Mr. Cyril Handal, VA, #765, 09:14, Feb 07

I had no idea that the content of a person’s email was up-for-grabs by the marketing division of Google. I am highly disappointed, and once able, will convert all email to Outlook. Email should be as private as content sent through USPS. Does this mean our conversations through Google Voice are being listened to as well? — Ms. Janel Heflin, FL, #2190, 05:01, Feb 08

For me, it is knowing that it is a federal crime for anyone to go through my physical mailbox that isn’t me. What is the difference, Google? I’m sure they have a legal team to explain that “no identity is dilvulged/revealed/everything stays anonymous,” but I assure you if I was given that same promise from my PO Box company and they were to open my addressed envelopes, before or after me, I would go somewhere else. In fact I would have them arrested. The federal statute 18 USC Section 1702 Chapter 83 of Title 18 of the federal code: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1702 — Mr. Jem Gee, CA, #4004
07:16, Feb 10

Email should have the same privacy as Postal Mail. It’s a Federal offence to open someone’s postal mail. If going through gmail isn’t illegal, it’s certainly not ethical. Stop ransacking our mail just to sell ads. — Name not displayed, SC, #4986, 20:23, Feb 11

I don’t want anyone reading my email. That is not right and just not ok. No one can read my physical mail (that is against the law) why should they be able to read my mail. — Name not displayed, CA, #5297, 20:39, Feb 12

America!!!

There were also comments from some who believe that a right to private email is somehow enshrined in the US Constitution. Or the Declaration Of Independence, which doesn’t actually grant rights to American. Or the Articles Of Confederation, which were replaced by the US Constitution. A sampling:

This is an outrage! For now, this is still a FREE Country. SO please stop! — Ms. Roni Spencer, PA, #356, 04:40, Feb 07

Keep your nose out of my private affairs. Else, I may contact EVERYONE I know to advise them of this unconstitutional invasion of privacy! I can pull a lot of people away from Google! And we need your APOLOGY!! Respectfully, Me — Name not displayed, MN, #1926, 00:31, Feb 08

GOOGLE, IF YOUR DOING THIS, STOP IT! YOURE VIOLATING MY RIGHTS. ITS UNLAWFUL! — Name not displayed, CA, #2828, 14:59, Feb 08

Go to Jail All the officers at google read the Constitution of the United States and the articles of confederation.the Declaration of independence — Mr. Brian Ferguson, IL, #4687, 07:29, Feb 11

Privacy right is a freedom of being American. Scanning email for profit is total evasion of that freedom. If Google wishes to use a system that scans email for ads then get permission and share the wealth like google ads. — Name not displayed, NY, #4841, 12:09, Feb 11

Beyond America

Some outside the US also felt they have a fundamental right to privacy that was somehow being violated:

Google stop going through my email!!!!It’s against my right for privacy!! — Name not displayed, Greece, #134, 0:44, Feb 07

STOP GOING THROUGH MY EMAILS, for your monetary gain! I ain’t no terrorist!!! — Mr. Harish Kumar Sreenivas, India, #244, 03:03, Feb 07

My email is private, not for you to snoop through to make money, I will be removing my account — Mr. Robert Mellor, United Kingdom, #684, 08:44, Feb 07

Conspiracy Theory

The two below made me smile. Google is either working with the CIA or being investigated with the CIA.

Scroo you Google! We know you are in cohoots with the CIA and NSA. Where did you get your angel funding from? — James Baker, CA, #126, 00:35, Feb 07

If this true that Google goes thru emails, I will file a Law suit that we all will own Google. I have taken this matter up with State and Federal Authorities. Which the CIA is investigating Google as a possible secret terrorist organization. — Dr. Michael Hovis, PA, #296, 03:55, Feb 07

There are also other higher-powers involved with email:

I do psychic readings thru my gmail, and it’s very personal to me and my clients…better not read. — Name not displayed, TN, #5509, 14:19, Feb 13

Very Confused

Some people weren’t clear on what it was they were protesting. The site was against Google showing targeted ads next to emails in Gmail. Some thought this meant instead they were getting spam mail, junk mail or pop-up ads:

Please stop sending ads to my gmail account. I get enough junk mail and do not need the added stress. Thank you. — Ms. Cheryl Donnell, PA, #3375, 08:01, Feb 09

We already get to much junk mail — Mr. John Flittie, CA, #3671, 16:01, Feb 09

I use gmail for business and school because that is what my college mandates we use for accessing college related events. I do not want ads to pop up when I’m emailing a teacher or checking business emails. If my college did not require we use gmail for them I would opt out of gmail right now — Devin Gobber, NE, #4500, 00:53, Feb 11

Anti-Microsoft

For a petition against Google, it turns out that some are signing it to actually express their upset with Microsoft over the whole “Scroogled” campaign. Some of the comments:

microsoft is asking for my personal information now? how is this any different than google going through your email? — anon ymous, Netherlands, #212, 02:22, Feb 07

Google is still innovative while Microsoft try to make them black? Microsoft, go working and make something special instead saying Google is bad. If your product is innovative, the users will change to Outlook. — Dr. S K, Netherlands, #280, 03:43, Feb 07

From the discussion at hacker news, junto states: If you login to Outlook.com (which is extremely slow btw), you’ll also find the following settings page available from the bottom right cog icon: https://data.choice.microsoft.com/mydata/UserInterests Under ‘My Data’ it stores Bing Searches and takes guesses as to your ‘Interests’. How does it do that exactly? Operationally, how different is Outlook.com a.k.a Hotmail, compared to Google? Both are free, and nothing is for free in this world. So, Microsoft also have an angle. Digging further you’ll find information on Microsoft Advertising, which is something I don’t remember actively opting in to, but I appear to be registered for: https://data.choice.microsoft.com/MyChoices/MSAdvertising It states, and I quote: > About Microsoft Advertising > With the Microsoft Personal Data Dashboard (beta), you can choose not to receive personalized ads on websites that use the Microsoft Advertising Platform by not allowing Microsoft Advertising to use your information. > Information used by Microsoft Advertising > The Microsoft Advertising Platform customizes personalized ads based on different types of information, including but not limited to: > Bing searches > Interests > Profile > What does it mean not to allow Microsoft Advertising to use your information? > Well, first, it doesn’t mean you will stop getting ads or see fewer ads; but, it does mean that the ads you get won’t be personalized anymore by Microsoft Advertising. Microsoft will continue to collect information for other uses, such as delivering content that is personalized for you; for example, the news articles displayed on MSN and the results you get when you search for software updates. — Ms. Scarlette Oogled, FL, #376, 05:09, Feb 07

GOOGLE IS THE BEST, OUTLOOK IS TERRIBLE WHO CARES IF THEY “SCROOGLE” YOU THEY ARENT GONNA KILL YOU. SUCK IT MICROSOFT! — Mr. Google is Awesome, outlook sucks, CO, #1063, 12:01, Feb 07

Microsoft tries to buy your love. Fails. Shuts it down. Thinks up something equally lame. Tries again. Fails again. Repeat. — Mr. Bill Gates, Jordan, #1092, 12:18, Feb 07

Microsoft is a pathetic company! Improve your services instead of using negative ad campaigns, maybe then you’ll stop fading into obscurity! —  S. Sandberg, CA, #1580, 18:41, Feb 07

I understand what you’re trying to accomplish, Microsoft, but the negative campaigning is losing goodwill for you — Name not displayed, TX, #2435, 08:20, Feb 08

Biggest Comment: No Comment

It’s easy to look at the comments above and show them as evidence of concern over Gmail. Certainly, there is some. Certainly, Google could make the existing opt-out options that do exist (despite what Microsoft says) easier to use, as I covered before.

But the far bigger comment not being shown is the “no comment” at all from hundreds of millions of Gmail users. They aren’t voting against Gmail with their feet by leaving. They sure don’t seem to be voting with their signatures. That silence has to be counted alongside the effectively insignificant complaints that the petition is collecting.

Maybe signatures will pick up as Microsoft keeps advertising its campaign. Maybe Microsoft may feel it’s gaining positive PR for itself in other ways. But, from what I can see, this is having essentially nil impact on causing people to switch from Gmail to Outlook.

Irony: Petition Site Does Ad Targeting

Also, irony alert. Those signing the petition are doing so through a service called Care2, which has an entire section in its privacy policy explaining how, by knowing more about its users, it can be a better middleman to help advertisers do better targeting.

That’s not reading email, but somehow, I suspect many of those signing the anti-Google petition still wouldn’t like it very much. In fact, one recent petition-signer didn’t like having to leave any personal info at all:

First of all, let me say that I find it rather annoying to discover that this survey which is against Google going throung my e-mail to sell ads, is asking me to supply my name, my address & the city & state that I live in, in order to protest against Google violating my privacy. What possible reason do you have for needing this information from me so that I can sign a petition against Google? Just an observation that makes me scratch my head, as it gives the appearance that you too, want my personal information for your own reasons. Could you address the reasons why you need my personal information before I can complete this petition?

Having said that, with identity theft & the ability for my peronal information to be accessed & sold to telemarketers, not to mentioned prospective employers, I DO NOT appreciate ANYONE collecting my personal e-mail nor searches to become a part of their database. Besides that, if ANYONE is going to profit off of my personal information, it should be ME.

So unless google & everyone else who does this is willing to cut me in for a fair piece of the economic pie, I would like for them to stop this potentially dangerous practice. And exactly when is the government going to stop allowing people to compile our personal information to do God knows what with? I thought that we were entitled to a certain amount of privacy, especially when we haven’t given permission for people to gather nor share our private information.

Seriously, this needs to stop but it won’t until the milions of people who use the internet understand the dangers & decide to unite to stop this. — Jay Daman, NY, #5565, 18:46, Feb 13

More Irony: Microsoft Uses Personalized Tracking To Deliver Scroogle Ads

One last bit of irony. Consider this Scroogled ad that I received at the Los Angeles Times website:

Why did I get that ad? It’s because I went to the Scroogled site first, then went to the LA Times website after that, and Microsoft is using what’s called “retargeting” to track when I’m on other websites and targeting me (or anyone) with its message.

In this case, Microsoft seems to be using Google’s own AdSense network to do this, though other ad networks also have this feature. There is an opt-out, if you know to click on that “AdChoices” logo in the top right of the ad. Doing so explains more about how you’re being tracked, based on your browsing activity.



Polls show retargeting can creep people out. But for advertisers, it can be very effective. In this case, however, it probably isn’t a wise choice to use. Microsoft tracking people in order to spread its message that Google is targeting ads to email feels kind of self-defeating.

Postscript: In time for Valentine’s Day, Microsoft has a new Scroogled ad video showing a Gmail postal worker opening love letters and inserting ads:

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About The Author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.