Microsoft's 'pig Latin' attack on Google's privacy record gets the green light from UK watchdog

Summary:Microsoft gets the all clear to continue its attack on Google's privacy credentials in the UK.

The UK's advertising watchdog has ruled a Microsoft radio ad that that employs Pig Latin to attack Google's ad-targeting in Gmail isn't misleading.

It's difficult to say how effective Microsoft's ongoing Scroogled campaign is in converting Google's users to its own products, but at least the privacy claims Microsoft levels against Gmail in new radio ads in the UK aren't misleading, according to the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The latest Scroogled ads airing on UK radio attack Google's practice of scanning the content of emails to sell targeted ads, which also highlight that Google doesn't offer any way of opting out of having emails scanned for keywords.

In it, Microsoft says: " 'Ymay ivatepray emailway isway onway ofway eirthay usinessbay', which is Pig Latin for 'My private email is none of their business'.

"Pig Latin may be hard to understand, but you probably need it if you use Gmail, because Gmail scans every word of your emails to sell ads. But Outlook.com doesn't. And you can choose to opt out of personalised ads. To stop Gmail from using your emails, use Outlook.com."

The online version of the ad can be seen here, where Microsoft continues to push its argument that Google's keyword searches in the text of email is an invasion of privacy. 

Two complainants who lodged challenges with ASA claimed the ad was misleadingly since it implied Outlook offered greater privacy than Gmail despite Microsoft also scanning the contents of emails, albeit for different purposes — a fact that Microsoft omitted from the ads.

However, Microsoft countered that it only scanned email for viruses and spam, which it said was expected and encouraged by consumers and regulators, and therefore its omission from the ad wasn't misleading.

Microsoft's argument was good enough for the ASA.

"We noted that the ad referred explicitly to Gmail scanning e-mail content for the purposes of targeting ads, and that this reference was immediately followed by the statement 'Outlook.com doesn't'," the ASA said.

"We considered that listeners were likely to appreciate that this statement was only in relation to scanning for ad targeting, rather than protective scanning, and that the ad did not state or imply that no other forms of scanning were utilised."

Of course, this doesn't mean that Microsoft won't scan the content of email under some circumstances, with the company last week defending scans it made of a blogger's Hotmail account during its trade secret leak investigation.

Read more on privacy

Topics: Microsoft, Google, Privacy

About

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, s... Full Bio

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