Dear Microsoft: Enough with the ‘Scroogling’ already

Microsoft has been using its lame marketing campaign to attack Google over privacy while doing many of the same things. Time to move on.

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For the last four months, Microsoft has been going after Google hammer and tongs via its “Scroogled” campaign, which has featured an online petition, a Web site, and a series of embarrassingly bad commercials.

The idea is to kick Google, which is stealing Microsoft’s lunch money every day in the online ad business, where it hurts most – in its privates. Or rather, its lack of privates.

Microsoft’s primary complaints: Google Shopping only shows results from sites that have paid Google for the privilege of being there, and Google scans the content of your Gmail so it can display relevant ads. Both of those things are true, though a) computers scan your email, not humans, which means Google isn’t breaking any laws or violating your privacy in any real way, and b) who the frak uses Google Shopping?

The campaign must be working to some extent, because at last week’s RSA security conference Google chief privacy officer Keith Enright complained about it, calling it “misleading” and “intellectually dishonest.”

Depending on which report you read today, Microsoft either is “winding down” that campaign  or is revving it up for the next chapter. TechCrunch offers this canned statement from a Microsoft spokeshuman:

“Scroogled will go on as long as Google keeps Scroogling people. We know Google doesn’t like it when the facts come out. Chapter two of the consumer education campaign has shown people care about their privacy. More than 3.5 million people visited scroogled.com, and nearly 115,000 people signed a petition asking Google to stop going through their Gmail. Stay tuned for the next chapter.”

My advice to Microsoft: Stop. Just stop. You’re embarrassing yourselves. And there are two big reasons why.

Reason number one is that somebody at Microsoft clearly didn’t do their research when they came up with this campaign. Until recently, Scroogle.com (minus the d) was a porn search engine fashioned to look like Google. Today, it is a NSFW live video chat site.

Here’s Microsoft’s Anti Google Web site, Scroogled.com.

Here’s the same URL minus the d:

Mistype the URL and you might see something you won’t soon forget, no matter how hard you try. And when people complain about being Scroogled, it might not mean what Microsoft thinks it means.

The other reason Microsoft should just drop it is that the high moral ground it’s attempting to stand on is rapidly crumbling beneath its feet. A New York Times report from last October notes that Microsoft recently changed its own privacy policies to be a lot more like – yes, that’s right – Google’s.

Microsoft’s policy, which it calls its Services Agreement, allows it to analyze customer content from one of its free products and use it to improve another service — for example, taking information from messages a consumer sends on Windows Live Messenger and using it to improve messaging services on Xbox. Previously, that kind of sharing of information between products would not have been allowed under Microsoft policies, which limited the use of data collected under one of its products to that product alone.

Pot, meet kettle.

Hey, if Microsoft wants to compete on who offers users more control over their personal information, I am all for it. Turning on Do Not Track by default, as Microsoft has done in Internet Explorer 10, is a nice symbolic gesture, though it will also be completely ineffectual unless ad networks honor the DNT flag in IE10 (which they have vowed not to). If Microsoft really intends to build a wall between our private data and our public lives on the InterWebs, more power to them.

But they need to do it for real, not as part of some lame marketing campaign.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blogeSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld onTwitter and Facebook.

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