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Microsoft sharpens ‘Scroogle’ claws, mauls Gmail

Google’s ‘privacy-violating’ email service next on Redmond’s list

Microsoft sharpens ‘Scroogle’ claws, mauls Gmail
Scroogled.com is used by Microsoft to air its disputes with Google.

Microsoft yesterday launched its "Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail" initiative through its website scroogled.com, to "educate Americans about Google's practice of going through the contents of all Gmail emails to sell and target ads".

The Redmond-based software giant cited the results of its recently commissioned GfK Roper study on email privacy, in trying to show the level of misperception in the average Internet user. The survey, conducted between 1 and 4 February, shows, for example, that 70% of consumers do not believe email providers regularly scan their personal messages to sell ads, but 88% would disapprove of the practice if they found out it was being applied to them.

Microsoft has set up a petition, aimed at garnering 25,000 signatures, to compel Google to discontinue the alleged practice. Redmond is also urging a shift to its Outlook.com product, which it claims does not violate privacy.

The campaign emerges at a time where consumers are becoming more vocal regarding the right to privacy online. Instagram last December drew the ire of its users when it announced what it later said were ill-worded new terms of service, which appeared to lay unlimited claim to users’ images as commercial fodder.

Today research company Ovum suggested the online economy could start to shrink as only 14% of Internet users polled said they believed Web companies were honest about their use of consumers' personal data.

"Scroogled" is a term adopted by Microsoft to embody its campaign against search leader Google, which Microsoft accuses of a host of anti-competitive practices. In early January the US Federal Trade Commission drew a 20-month Google anti-trust investigation to a close, concluding that its practices regarding search rankings were not in breach of competition regulations. The decision was a blow to Microsoft and its anti-Google allies and followed a pre-Christmas Scroogled campaign warning holiday shoppers about the alleged skewing of search results.

Scroogled.com is peppered with Microsoft's party line on Google's practices.

"Google goes through every Gmail that's sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads," Microsoft claimed on the homepage. "And there's no way to opt out of this invasion of your privacy."

Microsoft also highlights that non-Gmail subscribers are also at risk.

"Your email is nobody else's business," Scroogled.com proclaimed. "But Google makes it their business. Even if you're not a Gmail user, Google still goes through your personal email sent to Gmail and uses the content to sell ads."

In addition Microsoft features a number of quotes attributed to senior Google executives that appear to reveal a relaxed position on privacy and a pride in the company's ability to monitor consumer behaviour.

"We don't need you to type at all," said Google chairman Eric Schmidt at the Atlantic Washington Ideas Forum in 2010, according to Scroogled.com. "We know where you are, with your permission; we know where you've been, with your permission; we can more or less know what you're thinking about."

"Virtually everything that we want to do, I think, is somewhat at odds with locking down all of your information for uses you haven't contemplated yet," the site attributed to Google CEO Larry Page defending Google's new privacy policy in 2012. "That's something I worry about," he added.

And according to Microsoft, when Schmidt was quizzed on the virtues of consumer privacy, he had this to say: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

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