Microsoft slams Google user data policy in new ads

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Microsoft Corp. slammed search rival Google Inc. with full-page newspaper ads Wednesday, saying that recent changes at Google that allow it to internally merge the data it collects on user activity across services such as YouTube and Gmail are meant to allow advertisers to better target customers.

Google has touted the overhaul it announced last week as a simplification of detailed but obtuse policies and a way to provide a better user experience.

Microsoft offered up its own Web-based alternatives, saying for instance that users of its free email service, Hotmail, don’t have to worry about the content of their emails being used to help target ads.

The attack ads appeared in newspapers including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

“Every data point Google collects and connects to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser,” Microsoft says in the ad.

In response, Google published a blog post in which it refuted what it called “myths” about its new privacy policy, saying, “Our privacy controls have not changed. Period.”

The company does not dispute that it serves up ads based on words in private emails written by users of Gmail, but says such scanning is automated and is similar to how many email providers filter out spam. It has operated that way since Gmail’s introduction in 2004.

Both companies offer several controls to prevent advertisers from tracking users’ online activity.

Online expert Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the website Search Engine Land, said that Google’s privacy policy simplification has turned into a public relations “nightmare,” but only because it again focused attention on the kind of data that Google has collected for years.

He said Microsoft is in no position to point fingers, since it also collects a lot of user data from its search engine, Bing, and will adjust search results based on information it finds in users’ Facebook accounts if they are logged in.

“I think they’re largely about the same,” Sullivan said. “It would not be hard to go through and pick any major Internet company, talk about the kind of data they collect and start getting people paranoid.”

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