Fight! Fight! Microsoft and Google square up

Google website page Google's use of personal data is under attack

Google's new privacy policy, which effectively puts all of your data from its various applications into the same pot, has not met with universal approval.

In Washington lawmakers have been asking some tough questions, and today an EU data protection committee has called on Google to "pause" the new policy while its implications are considered.

But the most vociferous - and expensive - campaign against the policy has come from Microsoft, another technology firm that makes extensive use of personal data.

The company took out big adverts in American newspapers this week, suggesting that Google was collecting more and more data about its users in order to make ever more cash from advertisers.

This was followed up with a YouTube video featuring "Gmail Man", who serves a woman with an advert for an ointment after reading her email and spotting the keywords "burning" and "sensation".

Google, surprise surprise, is furious about this campaign, and claims that Microsoft is telling untruths about its policies while being less than frank about its own. And a quick scan of Microsoft's own privacy policy for its Bing search engine does turn up this:

"We may use search query data for the purpose of personalizing the ads we display to you as you use our services or those of our advertising partners."

Microsoft says, though, that its Hotmail service does not examine keywords for targeted advertising in the way that Gmail does, and does not use data from one service to target advertising in another. Google responds by pointing out that Gmail has been doing the same thing since 2004 and has always made it clear.

Google feels that on a key issue for its industry like privacy, the web giants should speak to the regulators with a united voice rather than making trouble for each other.

That may be unrealistic. Microsoft feels that Google has no right to complain about hostile adverts, given the money it has poured into its own "Go Google" ads recently. And, having suffered in the regulatory spotlight for years, it appears to be enjoying the fact that Google has now become the target on issues ranging from privacy to competition.

I can't help noticing that a PR firm called Burson Marsteller sends me an email every now and then about some incident showing Google in a bad light. They are, of course, employed by Microsoft.

It may be unseemly, but the war of words between Microsoft and Google looks certain to provide plenty of entertainment for onlookers. And, for all the peace and love streaming out of Google's Californian headquarters, they are not above a bit of fighting talk themselves.

"My advice to them is focus on your own business," a source at the firm told me, pointing out that Microsoft didn't really have an online business to speak of right now.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "This was followed up with a YouTube video"

    That says it all about which company has a decent set of products. Maybe Microsoft would like to set up a Google Group too, post to Google Plus a bit, design some flyers in Google Docs, give us a Google Map to where they'll be handing them out, and plan when on a Google Calendar. Or maybe they could use they're own competing services. If they existed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Just watched the "Gmail Man" ad. Oh dear, Microsoft. People really aren't that stupid - assuming you don't get sued for insinuating that someone at Google "reads" emails on Gmail, I think (hope!) the public are smarter than that.

    Not that it matters - I've tried Microsoft's "cloud" offerings including Office 3-6-5. When you've got nothing worthwhile to offer, go on the attack, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    We all use google's services because they are better. We do not really care about small adverts and data mining activities. All "free" services tend to make revenue from such activities. I would rather see relevant adverts in Gmail than viagra adverts in Hotmail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I really do not understand why any sentient being would trust ANY service based in the USA to take care of their private data. How many times does it have to be repeated they do not have such a thing as data protection and what they have is not enforced.

    NEVER EVER let your data get into the hands of US corporations - until they sign up, and adhere to, EU data protection standards!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Personally, I agree with Pizik@3: I'd rather have targeted ads than spam. Who knows, maybe one day, I'll even get an ad I actually click on! I can honestly say that in 16 years of being online, I've never clicked on an ad yet, just as I've never been handed anything useful to me in the street.

    Genuinely targeted ads would be a wonderful thing: what we currently have is still a shotgun approach.


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