Negative advertising campaigns conducted by any firm or party are always classy, and Microsoft's latest offering certainly amuses.
Microsoft began a new national campaign today which encourages users to leave Google's Gmail service in favor of joining Microsoft's Outlook email facilities, hooking into privacy concerns to relay the message.
The campaign, titled "Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail," highlights an issue which has been raised many times before: the fact that Google scans emails in order to target and tailor advertising alongside the message to the user.
Starting today, television, print, and online advertisements will sport the word "Scroogled!" in the colors of Google's famous logo. Microsoft says the aim of the campaign is to "educate Americans about Google's practice of going through the contents of all Gmail emails to sell and target ads." According to the Redmond giant, a study it commissioned found that 70 percent of consumers didn't know that email providers "routinely" read personal email to target advertising -- and 88 percent of people "disapprove" of this practice once they know.
In addition, Microsoft has launched a campaign to "to stop Google going through your emails to sell ads." At the time of writing, there are 121 signatures out of a target 25,000.
"Emails are personal -- and people feel that reading through their emails to sell ads is out of bounds," said Stefan Weitz, senior director of Online Services at Microsoft in a statement. "We honor the privacy of our Outlook.com users, and we are concerned that Google violates that privacy every time an Outlook.com user exchanges messages with someone on Gmail. This campaign is as much about protecting Outlook.com users from Gmail as it is about making sure Gmail users know what Google's doing."
Microsoft uses the following examples to try and bolster the Scroogle campaign:
"For example, if you write a friend to let her know you are separating from your husband, Google sells ads against this information to divorce lawyers, who post ads alongside it. Or if you ask a friend for vacation suggestions, Google uses this information to target you with ads from travel agencies or airlines that want your business."
The tech giant says that Outlook does not scan emails in order to tailor advertising to users. However, Google has long insisted that user privacy is not impacted due to automatic scanning technology. A spokesman for Google, Chris Gaither, told Bloomberg that even though advertising is tailored -- as it is declared on Google's website -- no humans ever read account or email information in order to target advertising. Gaither said:
"Advertising keeps Google and many of the websites and services Google offers free of charge. We work hard to make sure that ads are safe, unobtrusive and relevant."
Last year, Gmail came in close-second to Yahoo as the top free e-mail provider in the U.S., claiming 69.1 million users to Yahoo's 76.7 million, according to ComScore. Microsoft retained third place.