Technologizer

How Microsoft Scroogled Itself

Tbe New Republic explains why Microsoft's anti-Google ads are such a bad idea.

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Over at The New Republic, Lydia Depillis has a good piece on Microsoft’s “Scroogled” campaign, which has moved on from sniping at Google Shopping to charge Gmail with invading its users’ privacy because it scans their e-mail for keywords it can use to display advertising. The ads leave me cold — I find them patronizing and creepy, and generally more damaging to Microsoft’s image than Google’s — and reading her story helped me understand why Microsoft went down this road, and why it’s a bad idea:

Negative ads, as much as politicians might decry them, can have a devastating effect when deployed in a tight race, like last year’s Iowa Republican primary. Perhaps with this in mind, Microsoft hired ex-Clintonite Mark Penn, who pioneered the practice of micro-targeting ads based on consumer behavior, to work his black magic on Google. Penn, however, seems to not have recognized that there are some fundamental differences between consumer product battles and political campaigns, and mistaking one for the other can render them almost completely ineffective.

Microsoft’s anti-Google petition, which seeks signatures from unhappy Gmail campers, has about 6900 signatures as I write this, so it may take it a while to get to its goal of 25,000. I’m convinced that Microsoft will eventually conclude that this whole approach to competition is a self-defeating waste of money, and perhaps the petition’s failure to raise more ire will speed the end of “Scroogled.”

34 comments
jensloeffler
jensloeffler

@arpit I like one of the comments on the petition - "I really don't care. Google, keep doing what you're doing. Microsoft is no better."

boostapal
boostapal

 Microsoft also has a Valentine's Day themed  Scroogled video: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lI_9ChgHlkQ


It may be true that this MS campaign will have a negative effect on Microsoft but if it increases awareness among consumers then everyone else benefits.

scifiauthor
scifiauthor

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Lulzsec, what's the difference? Nobody does the right thing anymore because there are no consequences for doing the wrong thing. We put up with it in order to shop online for things we really don't want and can't afford and to chat with one another about anything, everything and nothing. We stick our necks out and they hack off our heads and we say please and thank you. This is why I haven't sent or accepted personal email for years. It's our own fault for being afraid that we might not be like everybody else. It's no way to run a world and it's no way to live your life.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

I find it hard to thing of any subject LESS suitable for Microsoft to bring up than ethics and privacy. Microsoft isn't the scummiest or most litigous company in tech, but it's sufficiently bad that it shouldn't draw attention to those areas. For starters, Google left China after it first refused to let the Chinese secret service monitor searches and the secret service then hacked Google - but Microsoft struck a deal with Baidu, which is run by the secret service, and Microsoft's search engine Bing is still operating in China.

Denesius
Denesius

Can you imagine the results if Google turned the table on MS, and went down the same road? 

KerryLind
KerryLind

I use gmail & don't mind being scroogled...bring on the keyword targeting RT @TIME: How Microsoft scroogled itself | http://t.co/ngGI5gTu

MichaelONeal
MichaelONeal

According to the folks at care2:

​Care2 is ​ ​the largest online community of people making a difference in healthy and green living, human rights and animal welfare.

I do not see how a MS FUD campaign against Google meets the above standards and have started a petition on Care2 chastising Care2 for promoting Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

Please sign and encourage others that consider deceitful promotions a travesty against truth. 

​The link to this petition is: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/346/718/630/care2-is-a-microsoft-shill/

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

Um, rest assured Google is not as virtuous as its "do no harm" motto implies. Maybe I didn't read every related link, but it appears that MS' assertion that Gmail reads through my e-mail to sell ads still stands. Apparently, this is something that Outlook.com does not do. So go ahead  and turn the blind eye to this but, Harry, you are being hypocritical as well by complaining somewhere about invasion of privacy in some manner of your life. Be that as it may, I do agree with the general points contained in the linked artice: compete more effectively and most everything will take care of itself, but I don't think they should fire Mark Penn. For some Gmail users these ads will make them rethink trying Outlook.com. And you don't have to sign a petition to do that either.

pixon
pixon

Microsoft has nearly 100'000 employees.  With 6900 signatures, that is only about 7% of Microsoft employees have signed the petition.  That's right the rest are using gmail.  :)

auronlu
auronlu

I'm still just as annoyed as heck that Microsoft stole the name and DOMAIN of that excellent website, Scroogled.com, which used to give us cookie-free web browsing.

Scroogled was an honest -- useful -- cool website.

Microsoft is trying to turn it into a bad word, and has almost succeeded.

Also, while Google is definitely getting too big for its britches, Microsoft shouldn't be throwing stones. Savvy web users know it's doing exactly what it's accusing Google of doing: 

http://searchengineland.com/microsoft-attacks-google-with-scroogled-campaign-forgets-its-guilty-of-same-thing-140856

JoePlexor
JoePlexor

I think Microsoft is being very competitive. Microsoft will take no prisoners. Its Surface Pro 128GB is now selling like hot bread. http://t.co/KTGux7Jw.  

arpit
arpit

@jensloeffler I would replace "no better" with "so much worse" ;)

mattwallaert
mattwallaert

@Denesius As in "think of all the things they could negative on" or "would the press react the same way"?

mattwallaert
mattwallaert

@KerryLind I actually entirely respect your ability to choose for Gmail to scan your mail for the purposes of advertising.  The problem is, 70% can't make the same informed choice because they don't actually know it is happening.  And 90% think it shouldn't be allowed.  I truly believe that tech and media professionals want people to make an informed choice - that is what we should be making sure people can do.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/124257005/GfK-Email-Privacy-Report

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@MichaelONeal I also found the Care2 website an odd home for such an obviously self-serving campaign.

AaronBateman
AaronBateman

@worleyeoe Actually, I believe Google is, in fact, as virtuous, as there "do no harm" motto implies.  Even if they fail to live up to that standard at times, they do seem to really try to live by it.  I don't think scanning emails to show you relevant ads is a form of harm.   

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@worleyeoe Obviously, everyone should decide for themselves whether they're bothered by Gmail's e-mail scanning. And it's good that Outlook.com -- an impressive service overall -- offers a no-scanning alternative. But Google does a heck of a lot of things which bug me more than the Gmail scans. And I suspect that the fact that hundreds of millions of people have been using Gmail for close to a decade now is evidence that it's not a huge issue for most people in the real world, no matter what polls say.

mattwallaert
mattwallaert

@auronlu Just to be clear on this point (and I don't know how we got the domain name), but the search engine had been dead for awhile, because Google chose to block their access, which killed their ability to deliver.

Yegura
Yegura

@JoePlexor "I think Microsoft is being very competitive" -- That's what I call wishful thinking. 

steven.l.starr
steven.l.starr

@JoePlexorInteresting way to go about self promoting your self, but one thing isn't clear to me JoePlexor why would anyone buy a Surface Pro from you and your half baked amateur website instead of getting one directly from Microsoft or even Amazon?

brittlebabe
brittlebabe

@mattwallaert I stopped reading at "Study commissioned by Microsoft".    Any study that has an agenda already has a known outcome.  

mattwallaert
mattwallaert

@harrymccracken(NOTE: I work as a behavioral scientist at Bing, so please view my comments accordingly.)  Harry, you seem to be making one of those arguments that tend to drive social psychologists like me crazy: everyone is doing it, so it must not be a big deal.

At one point, not so distant in America's history, "everyone" was smoking.  By your logic, that must mean that lung cancer is "not a huge issue", no matter what polls about lung cancer specifically said at the time.  But the fact is that lung cancer, and all the other associated problems of smoking, were in a fact a huge issue and when the truth was made clear to people (often in very graphic, "attack" ads), then people did in fact make a very big change.

I have to say, I don't quite understand your argument here.  A poll was conducted by a third party; yes, sponsored by Microsoft, but conducted independent of our researchers and with what seems to be a large N from a representative sample.  You seem to be saying "yes, but that doesn't matter, because I don't agree with the results of the poll".  Which is fine, but not really how science works.

You started your comment with "everyone decide should for themselves whether they are bothered".  So why is your article not about shedding deep light on something that 70% of Americans don't know is happening?  If you truly believe, as a journalist, that this is an issue people should be informed about so that they can make a decision based on fact, why have you chosen to devote your column space to voicing your concerns about negative ads, rather than writing about an issue that you yourself feel is one people should be informed about?

AaronBateman
AaronBateman

@mattwallaert @harrymccracken I don't it says lung cancer isn't a big deal.  It says, people just don't care enough about it to change, and that would seem to be the bigger point.  If you create a product well enough, people will overlook something that makes them a little uncomfortable, to make use of the superior service.

If people aren't aware of how Google does business by now, then I don't know that there is a solution to their ignorance.  It is one of the most talked about companies in the world, its business practices are constantly in various news outlets and under constant scrutiny.

mattwallaert
mattwallaert

@harrymccracken Appreciate the clarification; I read your "people vote with their feet" statement as suggesting that poll results don't matter, only actions.  Which is ultimately true, but only when information asymmetries are accounted for.

For what it is worth, I think there are some ads where I agree that too heavy of a tone were taken and others that I quite like (for example, the rather whimsical animated Valentine's Day ad).  There is a national conversation we need to have about how to educate people about their privacy options; it isn't as simple as smoking (where in the interests of the public good, we agreed as a society to condone fairly extreme ads) - we need to figure out how to honestly educate about what is happening (which may frighten some people and with good reason) without creating unjustified anxiety.  And that's a hard balance for anyone, let alone a company the size of Microsoft, to strike.

Truly appreciate that you are engaging with the topic in your comments; honestly, I wish companies could have a moderated public debate on this topic so that people understood the clear differences, without getting bogged down in either fear mongering or technical obfuscation.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@mattwallaert I wouldn't take ads into account one way or the other when recommending a product, and the more options consumers have the merrier. I think it's great that Outlook.com offers an option for people who don't like Gmail's approach,

For what it's worth I don't feel venomous about these Scroogled ads. Sort of the opposite, actually. In the case of both Bing and Outlook.com, Microsoft is doing good work, and I think the ads hurt Microsoft's image rather than hurt it. I don't like then mostly because I think they're bad for Microsoft.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken moderator

@mattwallaert To expand on my thoughts: I don't have any problem with polls about this topic, or Microsoft commissioning such polls, or even Microsoft using such polls as a hook for an advertising campaign and saying "Hey, if you don't want your email scanned for ads, use Outlook.com\." It's the agitated, heavy-handed, pseudo-public service tone of the ads which I don't think serves Microsoft well.

mattwallaert
mattwallaert

@harrymccracken Also, incidentally, how can you have chosen DuckDuckGo as a Top50 website in 2011 specifically because it didn't track searches if you object this sort of advertising?  They host the aggressive http://donttrack.us/ site, posted a very aggressive billboard (http://www.wired.com/business/2011/01/duckduckgo-google-privacy/), and yet you still seemed to think they deserved praise (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2087815_2088176_2088178,00.html) and not a hint of the venom you show here.