Is it time for Microsoft to relinquish the Evil Empire crown to Google?

Microsoft is taking its anti-Google campaign a step further with newpaper ads aimed at highlighting controversial changes in Google's privacy policy.

There's more than one way to grow market share, as the Softies know. Best products or first-to-market products don't always win. Sometimes, a product can come to dominate largely because of the missteps of a competitor.

Not so long ago, Microsoft's policy was to sit back and wait for users to grow disenchanted with the competition and ultimately (hopefully) gravitate toward the Microsoft alternative. (Exhibit A: Xbox vs. Sony PlayStation.) But these days, Microsoft isn't leaving those defections up to chance. Instead, company officials have been increasingly willing to go public -- via Twitter, Facebook, blog posts and ads -- to fight back against the competition.

Google is one of Microsoft's favorite punching bags right now, for many understandable reasons. This week, Microsoft took its Google-compete campaign a step further by taking out ads in three major national newspapers to help continue to fuel the anti-Google furor over privacy. (I'm not sure the readers of print newspapers (even big ones) are really the folks Microsoft has to convince here, but that's just an aside.)

Microsoft doesn't really need to stoke the fires much here. Even the U.S. Congress is demanding Google provide answers about its no-opt-out privacy policy taking effect March 1. And Google has been forced to explain and re-explain it (and probably before it's over, re-explain it again).

But what Redmond is doing this time around is very non-Microsoft-like: They're actively trying to capitalize on its competitor's problems in a public way -- and to boost the market share of their own alternatives -- Hotmail, Bing, Office 365 and Internet Explorer -- as a side benefit.

I like seeing Microsoft get more publicly aggressive. I can't tell you how frustrating it's been as someone reporting on Microsoft to call company officials for comment on Google's or Apple's or Salesforce's or Oracle's claims about Microsoft's products or strategies and to be told "no comment" -- even when it was obvious the competitors weren't telling the truth, the whole truth or even the partial truth.

That said, when I first heard about it, Microsoft's newest anti-Google campaign struck me as the pot calling the kettle black. Sure, Microsoft can rail about Google tailoring users' search results based on information it collects about them, but isn't Microsoft collecting the same kind of information about its users, in the name of providing more personalized, customized user experiences for users (and, of course, advertisers)?  Hey, Microsoft didn't earn the "Evil Empire" nickname for its selfless customer love...

Frank Shaw, Corporate Vice Presient of Corporate Communications for Microsoft, told me there are differences.

"There is a difference between policy and practice. We don't read customers mail. We don't read customer documents. We don't triangulate youtube views and searches. We don’t use the content of your Hotmail to target ads in Bing," Shaw said.

Maybe it's time for the passing of the Evil Empire crown to a new king? All hail the G-mail Man?

Update: Here's Google's response to points it says Microsoft makes in its new privacy ad campaign.

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