TECH
02/01/2012 03:50 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2012

Google Privacy Policy Changes Spark Microsoft Print Ad Campaign

With a new print ad campaign titled "Putting People First," Microsoft is hoping to capitalize on the backlash against Google's privacy changes by using the controversy to entice users to its portfolio of internet services.

The ads, announced in a Microsoft blog post titled "Gone Google? Got Concerns? We Have Alternatives," will run for three days in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

The ad, which can be found online here, reads in part:

Google is in the process of making some unpopular changes to some of their most popular products. Those changes, cloaked in language like "transparency," "simplicity," and "consistency," are really about one thing: making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say while using one of their services.

The ad goes on to lay out Microsoft's alternatives to Google's cadre of services, which include Bing, Office 365 and Internet Explorer. In a direct swipe at Google's planned privacy policy changes, Microsoft touts the privacy benefits of Hotmail email service, a competitor of Google's Gmail product. "Join the hundreds of millions of people who enjoy not worrying about the content of their private e-mails being used to serve ads," the ad says.

On January 24, Google announced via blog post that, on March 1, it will introduce a new mandatory privacy policy that will merge policies that currently exist across 60 of the company's numerous web products. This also means that the company will consolidate user data attached to these products.

In the post, Google claimed to be making these changes in order to create one cohesive privacy policy from the more than 70 that are currently in use. While a few had to be left out "for legal and other reasons," the search giant said that the new policy will allow users to enjoy a "simpler, more intuitive Google experience."

According to The Huffington Post's Bianca Bosker, combining information about a user's preferences and activity from multiple services also makes Google users much more valuable to advertisers, since this mass of information will allow them to target ads with more precision.

Privacy advocates have found cause for concern in these changes, especially due to users' inability to opt-out. Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer wrote in a statement that these mandatory changes are "frustrating and a little frightening," especially for kids and teenagers.

But Google's also standing up for itself. According to PaidContent.org, Google has taken out its own ads defending its privacy practices. One such ad, featured on the Washington Post website reads, "We're changing our Privacy Policy. Not your privacy controls." It then directs users to Google's policies page for more information.

The ads are reportedly part of Google's "Good To Know" campaign, which aims to dispel Google users' concerns about how their personal information is used. According to Ad Age, the simple advertisements emphasize that the more user information Google has, the easier, quicker and better people's searches will be. Ad Age calls this a "value exchange." Time will tell whether users think it's worth the price.

At the request of concerned U.S. Congressmen, Google public policy director Pablo Chavez sent penned a letter earlier this week explaining the company's privacy changes. "[T]he updated privacy policy does not allow us to collect any new or additional types of information about users," Chavez wrote, per Reuters. Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton had previously recommended that Google's new policy be subjected to a probe by the Federal Trade Commission.

Indeed, Google has come under increased scrutiny from users, competitors and lawmakers since January 10, when the company unveiled Search Plus Your World, a search feature that pulls public posts and data from users' Google+ networks into regular Google web searches.

Almost immediately the internet cried foul, with the Electronic Privacy Information Center sending a letter of complaint to the FTC on January 12. The letter, which quotes an article on Search Engine Land, reads in part:

[A]lthough the data from a user's Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly, Google's changes make the personal data of users more accessible. Users might, for example, 'com[e] across an unexpected photo or post from a friend, [and] might reshare it to the world' or '[t]hings that people may have forgotten sharing with others will begin to show up serendipitously through ordinary Google searches.'

On January 13, unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the Federal Trade Commission, which is already investigating claims that Google favored its own properties in search results, may have expanded its investigation to include the Search Plus Your World feature.

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