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Monday, March 05, 2012

Microsoft Isn’t Convinced by Google

First appeared in Information Week
Microsoft wasted little time launching an effort to cash in on concerns about Google's controversial new privacy policies, under which the search giant said it would monitor user activity across all of its major Web services--including YouTube, Gmail, and its namesake search engine.

"The changes Google announced make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information," said Microsoft chief spokesman Frank Shaw, in a blog entry Wednesday. "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."

Shaw said that, in contrast to some versions of Google's products, Microsoft services like Hotmail and Office 365 don't serve up user information to advertisers. He also touted Internet Explorer's built-in tracking protection feature. To further emphasize the point, Microsoft is running an ad in major newspapers this week that says the company is "Putting People First."

The ad says Google's changes are "cloaked in language like 'transparency,' 'simplicity,' and 'consistency'" but in fact 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."

The hubbub arose last week, after a Google exec announced the changes in a blog post. "Our new privacy policy makes clear that, if you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services," said Alma Whitten, Google's director of privacy, product, and engineering.

"In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience," said Whitten. Google said the changes would go into effect "in just over a month."

Google insists the revamp will benefit users by making its services more efficient. For instance, a search on "German restaurants" would yield results not just from the Web, but from Google+ posts or Gmail messages.

But critics, including key lawmakers, fear the changes could put users' privacy at risk. "It is imperative that users will be able to decide whether they want their information shared across the spectrum of Google's offerings," said Edward Markey (D-Mass.), in a statement.

Microsoft is hoping the controversy will lure users to its online services, including Bing search, most of which lag well behind Google in user numbers and market share. "If [Google's] changes rub you the wrong way, please consider using our portfolio of award-winning products and services," the company said in its newspaper ad.