Software companies in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Microsoft's spending more than a million bucks trying to convince customers that Google's "Scroogled" email dumpster-diving is somehow more invasive than Microsoft's own antics. That's hogwash.
Shira Ovide and Danny Yadron at the Wall Street Journal have the details on Microsoft's new ad campaign, which should be hitting a TV near you shortly. In my opinion, Google scanning Gmail messages to improve the accuracy of its ads is a scummy business practice. But Microsoft is wallowing in the same trough, albeit in a slightly different way.
You see, Microsoft only matches up ads with Outlook.com/Hotmail email subject lines -- not the entire contents of the message. This, in Microsoft's opinion, gives Redmondians the moral high ground in its dirty ad campaign.
Both Google Gmail and Microsoft/Outlook.com/Hotmail scan the contents of all messages for malware detection and spam triage, of course. Ditto for every other online email provider. Fair enough.
According to WSJ, Microsoft also dishes up ads based on your sex, age, and location -- information that you provided when you signed up for a Microsoft Account/Hotmail/Outlook.com/Live.com ID. According to WSJ, Microsoft also rolls in info that it's collected from Bing. "[I]f someone is logged into his Microsoft account and searches for new car models, he may see ads in Outlook.com targeted to car enthusiasts." I talked about the dangers of using a Microsoft Account last April.
The way I see it, on the "Scroogled" side Google matches up the contents of your Gmail messages, the information you provided when you signed up for the Gmail account, plus any information gleaned while you were signed into Google -- including your search history if you sign in to a Google site with the same account that you use for Gmail.
On the Microsoft side your ads are influenced by the subject line of every email message coming or going through Outlook.com/Hotmail, info you provided when you signed up for your Microsoft Account, your search history if you're signed in with your Microsoft Account while using Bing, and anything additional that Microsoft's collecting while you're signed in to Windows 8 -- which could be considerable.
Far as I'm concerned, we're all getting Scroogled at both ends. Hard to say which company's worse.
Update: According to The Verge, Microsoft now denies that it scans email subject lines in order to deliver ads. The Wall Street Journal, as of this writing, has not modified its original report.
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