Windows 8.1's 'Hero' ads -- brought to you by stealthy snooping

Microsoft unleashed a new iteration of its Hero ads but somehow forgot to mention that they work by secretly snooping on your desktop

Microsoft yesterday unveiled more details about its new search-based advertising for Windows 8.1. Microsoft calls the technology behind the ads "Smart Search," and it's certainly smart -- for advertisers, that is, not for you. For Windows 8.1 customers like you and me, Smart Search is the worst privacy-busting feature to ever slither its way into Windows.

I've talked about Smart Search before, but if you use Windows 8.1, it would behoove you to double-check right now and make sure you aren't being MicScroogled. And if you know somebody who's actually fallen for this bit of marketing muck, show them what's going on behind the scenes.

At this moment, I count 40 different tech publications that are parroting Stephen Sirich's official A View Into Tomorrow at Bing Ads Next blog post. (According to LinkedIn, Sirich is a general manager in Microsoft's Online Services Division.) Sirich is speaking to advertisers when he says:

We are currently running the pilot of Hero ads, which can appear when users are searching for certain brand-specific information in Bing Smart Search. The goal of Hero ads is to enable searchers to quickly find the most relevant information and complete the most popular tasks for the brand they are specifically searching for via a beautiful visual and interactive experience created in partnership with our brand partners.

Those 40-odd tech blog posts pick up on the fact that the Hero ad pilot comes a week after Google started testing banner ads, but that's a coincidence. In fact, Hero ads have been part and parcel of Windows 8.1's Smart Search since early beta versions.  Search Engine Watch says this:

Bing Ads has announced a brand new ad experience today at its Bing Ads Next event, called Hero Ads. The new ads are a very visual ad unit within Windows 8.1 Bing Smart Search and are a great integration between Windows and Bing Ads.

The goal of the new Hero ads is to combine user intent, branding and task completion for consumers. From an advertiser perspective, it enables advertisers to get all the most important and relevant information before consumers, with plenty of call to action.

Hero Ads are very visual ad formats and essentially the ads look to be like a landing page, rather than an advertisement by Bing. Hero ads are currently part of the Windows 8.1 user experience with Bing Smart Search...

Hero ads are currently being run as free of cost during the consumer testing phase. During the limited pilot, Bing Ads will be scrutinizing metrics for consumer experience and get feedback from both advertisers and consumers. Specifically, they want to test how consumer satisfaction changes with hero ads. They also want to determine whether it should it be a total ad experience or a hybrid of ad and search when serving Hero ads.

That's exactly what Microsoft wants advertisers to know: Bing Smart Search "Hero" ads are a great way to advertise your product. The ads give your brand an ersatz landing page when a Windows 8.1 customer searches for certain keywords, and everything culminates in a sell-sell-sell experience.

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