Staying classy

The spat between Microsoft and Google is getting ugly

August 16, 2013
Obsession
Mobile Web
August 16, 2013

Google and Microsoft have been engaged in a protracted series of battles, using negative PR, cooked-up conferences, and pulling support on services for months on end. Both sides were at it again this week.

Microsoft struck first with an update to its long-running “Scroogled” campaign over the weekend. It complained that Google is now placing ads directly in your inbox. This is true. Google has started rolling out a new form of advertising in which it puts ads that look like emails in the redesigned inbox. That invades your privacy, Microsoft says, because Google’s reading your emails to figure out what ads to serve.

But this is a difficult argument for Microsoft to make. For one thing, Google has always been transparent about reading your email to generate ads next to your email—it’s just making the ads more intrusive now.

Moreover, ever since revelations of spying by America’s National Security Agency exposed the depth of the relationship between tech firms and the US government, Microsoft’s “Your privacy is our priority” ad campaign has started to look pretty feeble. True, turning data over to government agencies as required by law is different from mining the data for commercial purposes, but arguably, the latter is more benign—with ad targeting, it’s only a computer that’s reading your email, not a person.

Microsoft has also tried going through a front—the Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace, a Microsoft-backed anti-Google lobby group. But as Lydia DePillis wrote in the New Republic, Microsoft’s antics just make it look “petty and snide.”

Not that Google has been any less petty. In May, Google asked Microsoft to remove the YouTube app on the Windows Phone operating system because the app carried no ads, violating YouTube’s terms of service. Microsoft complied and built a new version, which returned to the Windows Phone on Tuesday, Aug 13. Within two days, Google had again revoked its permissions. In a long blog post yesterday David Howard, a vice-president at Microsoft, detailed a long list of new obstacles Google had thrown up to make it effectively impossible for the app to pass muster. And earlier this year, Google stopped supporting a protocol Microsoft uses for email, contacts and calendars, thus shutting Windows phone users out of Google services like Gmail.

In this particular bit of pettiness, Google comes out looking worse. Microsoft is merely trash-talking Google; Google, on the other hand, seems to be using its market power in services like email and online video to pry users away from Microsoft. But Google might counter that it is strange for Microsoft , which was supposedly working together with Google on the new app, to push it out knowing that it wouldn’t be approved. Perhaps the spin doctors at Redmond have finally figured out how to successfully run a smear campaign. Whatever the cause of the latest debacle, one thing is clear: in the war between Google and Microsoft, it’s users who suffer the most.

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