Microsoft wins ad complaint over Google privacy

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Microsoft’s ‘Scroogled’ campaign gets partial endorsement.

The British Advertising Standards Authority has agreed with Microsoft after a complaint about their ‘Scroogled’ campaign.

‘Scroogled’ is an attempt by Microsoft to attack Google over its targeted advertising which looks at Gmail messages and displays ads based on the keywords in the email. It’s an extension of the original ‘Gmail man’ campaign from a few years ago.

Microsoft has tried to portray this as a breach of privacy by Google despite the fact that Microsoft itself scans every Outlook.com/Hotmail message. The difference is that Microsoft scans are hidden away and done for anti-virus/hacking prevention while Google’s are obvious.

We now also know that Microsoft can and will read Hotmail/Outlook.com messages if it suits their self-interest.

So the whole ‘Scroogled’ campaign, aside from seeming petty and demeaning, is also a case of a large corporate kettle calling another black!

In the British case, a ‘Scroogled’ radio ad was contested on the basis of accuracy. It included the key sentence:

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.” – our underlining.

The ASA found that both Microsoft’s Outlook.com and Gmail scanned emails. However the Microsoft ad was specific about scanning ‘to sell ads’ and therefore the ad was found to be ‘not misleading’.

Because the ad made clear that the privacy claims were in relation to ad targeting, which Outlook.com does not carry out, we therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading,”

Those three key words ‘to sell ads’ made the difference. You can be sure that Microsoft was very careful about the wording of the ad. Interestingly the ASA also found:

We acknowledged that Outlook.com scanned e-mails for viruses and spam messages, and that this was not referred to in the ad.”

Which is quite right.

However, we understood that this was standard practice for e-mail providers and considered that listeners were likely to expect this type of scanning to be carried out as a matter of course

Virus/hack scanning certainly is standard practice for email providers but we’re not sure that most people would know or expect that. We regularly hear from people who are ‘certain’ that there’s no anti-virus protection on their email, unaware that their email host will have some level of protection in place.

You can read the original complaint and ruling here.


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