Microsoft is skewering Google again with ads and regulatory bashing that say as much about the dramatic shift in the technology industry’s competitive landscape as they do about the animosity between the two rivals.
The ads that began on Tuesday mark the third phase in a five-month-old marketing campaign that Microsoft Corp derisively calls “Scroogled.” The ads, which have appeared online, on TV and in print, depict Google Inc as a duplicitous company more interested in increasing profits and power than protecting people’s privacy and providing unbiased search results.
This time, Microsoft is vilifying Google for sharing some of the personal information that it gathers about people who buy applications designed to run on smartphones and tablet computers powered by Google’s Android software. Earlier ads have ripped Google’s long-running practice of electronically scanning the contents of people’s Gmail accounts to help sell ads. Other ads attacked a recently introduced policy that requires retailers to pay to appear in the shopping section of Google’s dominant search engine.
“We think we have a better alternative that doesn’t do these kinds of nefarious things,” said Greg Sullivan, Microsoft’s senior manager for Windows Phone, the business taking aim at Google’s distribution of personal information about buyers of Android apps.
As Microsoft attacked Google in the US, a group led by Microsoft asked European authorities to investigate whether Google has been using its free Android operating system to stifle competition from other mobile services besides its own. One such rival is Microsoft’s Windows Phone system.
On Tuesday, the Microsoft-led FairSearch group complained that Google has acted unfairly by requiring device makers relying on its Android software to install an entire suite of Google’s mobile services, even if they just wanted one or two apps, such as Google Maps or YouTube. That still has not prevented device makers from redesigning Android to suit their own purposes. Amazon.com Inc, with its Kindle Fire, and Barnes & Noble Inc, with its Nook tablets, are among the companies selling Android products that do not feature Google services.
Microsoft’s latest ads revolve around concerns already raised by privacy watchdogs. Critics argue that Google has not adequately disclosed that customers’ names, e-mail addresses and neighborhood locations are routinely sent to the makers of apps sold in Google’s online Play store.
At least one group, Consumer Watchdog, has complained to the US Federal Trade Commission that Google’s apps practices represent an “egregious privacy violation.” Citing agency policy, commission spokesman Jay Mayfield declined to comment on whether the complaint has triggered a formal investigation.
“What Google is doing is a big problem, so I am glad Microsoft is helping to bring it to light,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “But Microsoft has its own problems. I certainly don’t think they are doing this for altruistic reasons. They are clearly doing this for their own competitive purposes.”
Microsoft is not saying how much it is spending on the ad campaign, beyond saying the amount will run in the “multimillions” of dollars.
Although there is no evidence that the ads have hurt Google yet, Sullivan said Microsoft is pleased with the response. The company says about 117,000 people have signed Microsoft’s online petition protesting Gmail’s ad-driving scanning of content. That is a sliver of the more than 425 million Gmail accounts worldwide. Microsoft says about 4 million people have visited Scroogled.com, the Web site that serves as the hub of the company’s anti-Google campaign.