**This is a guest post written by Henry Conrad**
Ads, though somewhat annoying, are generally okay. As long as the content or message isn’t offensive to anyone, advertisements are acceptable. But what if the ads popping up on your webmail are there because some bots collected information from your personal email messages? Isn’t that an invasion of privacy? This is exactly what Microsoft is using against its arch enemy Google when the former decided to use some political campaign-like strategy to take a swipe at the latter.
In its aggressive ad campaign, Redmond, WA software company Microsoft attacks the Mountain View, California-based giant Google in its privacy-intruding means of producing relevant ads by “skimming” through Gmail users’ email content. Microsoft takes a swipe at Google’s Gmail by warning users of being “scroogled” or ill-treated by Google.
Google “Scans” Email Content
In case you didn’t know, Google targets Gmail users with ads by scanning through content of email messages. Users understandably feel iffy about this, causing some would-be Gmail users to find other alternatives, and Microsoft is clearly aware of this tactic. In fact, Microsoft conducted a poll which showed that about 9 out of 10 Americans oppose such practice by Google. Unsurprisingly, the software giant is using this information to its advantage, relentlessly bashing its rival in a series of aggressive ads in print, TV, billboard, and online (ever seen the Gmail Man video on YouTube?). Microsoft resorted to such tactic in the hopes of luring Gmail users to switch over to Microsoft’s latest free webmail service, Outlook.com.
Some analysts, according to published reports, are calling Microsoft’s strategy as “alarmist and irresponsible”. Privacy advocates, on the other hand, are ecstatic to see that privacy is being viewed by a huge company as Microsoft as a major and competitive selling point.
Gmail Still Popular despite Privacy Controversy
Since Gmail’s launch in 2004, Google has repeatedly assured its more than 70 million webmail users that the company employs an “automated process” in keyword searches done to show relevant ads. The company has further stated that “no humans” are reading users’ emails and that such automated process doesn’t compromise user privacy.
Despite the growing stigma that emails are subject to Google’s “prying eyes”, the company still has a huge number of users – a reason why Gmail has become Microsoft’s primary target. In December last year, Gmail had 76 million unique visitors, surpassing Microsoft’s 34.3 million. Yahoo remains the top email provider with 78.7 million unique visitors.
An explanation for this, according to some analysts, is that users (despite saying they’re concerned with their privacy) are being passive about Google “skimming” through their emails and are in fact, not really concerned at all.
Opting Out of Google Ads
Some, however, are pushing Gmail to provide easy “opt-out-of-ads” options to users. In its Advertising Policies and Principles page, Google does say that users “can control advertising cookies”, “use the Ads Preferences Manager to manage the Google ads” seen, or manage the cookies in web browsers. Users also have the chance of signing up for a $50-a-year-business account, use Gmail’s HTML version, or use the Gmail app on their RingCentral business phone. But other than these, there are really no easy and immediate way of opting out. And if Microsoft continues to push its privacy-centric campaign against Gmail, then Google may have to give in.