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

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 doesn't. And you can choose to opt out of personalised ads. To stop Gmail from using your emails, use"

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 ' 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

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

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, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Microsoft will make sure privacy is enforced...

    and will read as many of your e-mails as necessary to make it happen!
    Tony Burzio
    • At least they won't sell that info they read as Google does

      So there's consolation in that.
      • Oh

        Have you read the EULA?
  • despicable campaign!

    people should call out M$ on this sleazy campaign!
    M$ inability to match google's awesome services is a liability not a virtue!
    LlNUX Geek
    • Peope should call on google

      to quit reading gmail and violating everyones privacy.

      google free and loving it, google is unethical.
      • yawn - you s*uck MS.

        • yawn you're boring with

          Your hatred towards one business while loving the other. You must be a paid shill. Next...
          Ram U
      • What is the product

        Either you pay for a product or you are product. Nothing is really free. I prefer to pay for my e-mail service and not be the product. So pay up or stop complaining about privacy.
    • Telling the truth hurts that much?

      Since when did telling the truth become sleezy?

      I get that you hate Microsoft, but what do you not like about the Scroogled commercials? That they tell the truth?
      • Sleezbaggle

        Microsoft has always been sleazy. Truth is very relative indeed.
    • Microsoft seems to "own" the UK.

      "despicable campaign!"

      And the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) gives Microsoft a pass. Microsoft seems to "own" the UK. The Guardian, The Times of London, and BBC all behave as though they were owned by Microsoft. No company controls the Media like Microsoft.
  • I doubt this sort of capaigns have the expected results

    Google services are about making money with advertising - I believe that's pretty clear for the majority of their users. Scanning emails for spam filtering, advertising, malware search, ... it's pretty irrelevant for 95% of users. The remain 5% are no way in a better situation with similar products, including - those should look for non-cloud based solutions.

    For Google is important to reduce the "noise" between people and ads, create services that people want and mine user data so they can have more clicks and with better price. If Microsoft wants to fight Google they should act on one of those 3 pillars. So far it seems outlook is pretty flat, Bing is going nowhere, windows mobile platforms have a tiny share...

    With the shift to mobile, Google can be damaged but so far Microsoft is not even making a dent - Facebook and app makers selling their own ads are the main competition for Google.
    • M$'s problem

      is that they have had nothing to offer for so long, slinging mud and hoping to catch people snoozing is all they've got.
      • Sad thing is that I'm sure they do a lot of things better than Google

        But all they advertise is this (in my opinion) pathetic complain about email scanning - like if they were the Robin Hood of tech world, defending powerless users.
        • I bet if the tables were reversed

          and Google was the one complaining about Microsoft scanning emails, the usual suspects would be talking about how great Google is for exposing the invasive unethical business practices of Microsoft.

          Not that Microsoft isn't putting out other advertising that highlights their strengths, such as the "honestly" campaign and the one device for everything campaign.
          • There are that type of people on both sides

            Complaining is irrelevant, it just generates a lot of posts and zero added vale
    • Yeah it's such a failure

      So much so that I've ditched my android phone and my Google account (admittedly I was already annoyed by the unified identity over all products move they'd made) and bought a Nokia WP8 and moved over to Outlook.

      Apart from anything else Outlook has a far superior email handling system, of filtering and folder control. Gmail was appalling and the ridiculous left panel was almost unusable what with it jumping up and down as you tried to select a folder.
      • I dont have a problem with gmail

        I am very happy with gmail. You could not pay me to switch.
  • Sorry, Microsoft, but you lost the high ground

    Perhaps, you should consider bringing aQuantive back from the dead. 'Cuz, if you can't beat 'em, then join 'em.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Microsoft's 'pig Latin' attack on Google's privacy record gets the green li

    I don't see what the problem is. Microsoft is not misleading people which means there is a lot of truth about what they are saying about Google. Not sure why anyone would want to use Google's services anyway.