Microsoft Debuts New Commercials on Privacy, With Google in the Crosshairs

Bringing up Privacy to Draw a Distinction With Rival

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Microsoft is taking its war with Google up a notch.

The company is introducing a TV, print, billboard and online consumer public awareness campaign today, and while it doesn't mention Google by name, the effort is focused on two markets where the search giant might be exposed: Washington, DC, where federal policy makers live, and Kansas City, MO, where Google has rolled out Google Fiber.

The campaign is Redmond's latest attempt to promote a public conversation about online privacy, and to show consumers how to control their information in Microsoft products such as Bing, Internet Explorer, Windows 8, Windows Phone and Xbox. The campaign, which uses the theme "Your Privacy Type," urges consumers to visit Microsoft's privacy site to take a quiz on what kinds of information they're willing to provide in exchange for services.

"The goal is to raise awareness about privacy and choices people have to make in the online world," said Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Mary Snapp. "We hope it will spark conversation about what privacy means online."

Redmond has been hammering Google for months with its "Scroogled" ad campaign, which points out, among other things, Google's use of data from search queries and Gmail for advertising. It also flags the way Google passes personal data to app developers through the Google Play Store.

Microsoft took a divergent path from the rest of the advertising industry last summer when it announced that the latest version of Internet Explorer would send an automatic do-not-track signal as its default setting, telling websites not to deploy the third-party tracking software beacons called "cookies." Mozilla followed suit, saying that the next version of Firefox would block third party cookies by default.

The online ad industry would generally rather respect only do-not-track signals that are affirmatively activated by browser users. It has not reached consensus on how to treat default do-not-track settings, with debate continuing to play out among academics, web technocrats and business representatives in a group called the WC3. "We want to add the consumer voice to the discussion," Ms. Snapps said.

The irony of all this is that while Mozilla has no ad business, Microsoft has a sizable one that relies on third-party tracking and data collection. Nevertheless, Microsoft Advertising is toeing the party line. "We believe that transparency and consumer choice are critical ingredients to building trust between advertisers and consumers," a spokesman said, in a statement.

The difference is that ad-supported web services are a money-losing side show for Microsoft but a profitable core business for Google, which has been ramping up its campaign for its Chrome browser through video ads and prompts on Google products like Gmail.

Microsoft's latest campaign focuses on children, and points out that parents might not want information like a baby's diaper rash be disclosed to advertisers.

"It's curious that Microsoft believes that a targeted ad to new parents about diaper rash treatment is offensive," said Stuart P. Ingis, counsel for the Digital Advertising Alliance, which administers the online ad industry's self regulation program. "This on its face to me appears to be more fear mongering to promote products, rather than education that either describes to consumers the choices that they have today and the diversity of services that the responsible advertising industry provides to consumers."

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