Hey Microsoft, 2004 called. It wants its privacy outrage debate back. Microsoft is on the rampage lately, aggressively attacking Google on search, shopping, and email, the latter of which is now featured on Microsoft’s infamous “Scroogled” site where – get this! – Microsoft goes after Gmail because Google reads your email to target you with ads! Seriously.
You have to have a sense of history to get how ridiculous this all is. Let’s go back to 2004 for a minute. Early that year, the big debate in the media about Google’s upcoming free webmail service was its “potentially sticky privacy issues.” (source: PCMag). Journalists, bloggers, and even advocacy groups like the World Privacy Forum and the Electronic Privacy Information Center got their hands in the matter, leading some to even proclaim “Google mail is evil!”
The issue at hand was that Google was reading your email, and using it to target you with ads. Like Google.com does in a way, but in the more personal and private context of your inbox. The fact that it was bots and not sweaty IT guys with Cheetos-encrusted fingers doing so (e.g. the real live human beings who actually did read your Microsoft Exchange email – I know, because I used to work with some of those guys. OK fine. I also ate Cheetos and read your email.), was set aside so everyone could get outraged over the privacy invasion. Where is this data stored? For how long? Who is it shared with?
It was a worthy argument to have at the time, because we were just then entering into an era where users exchanged privacy for services. This was a time when Facebook was getting off the ground as a site for college students to privately network, remember. Before the News Feed backlash. Before mobile apps. Before everything had a “share!” button. It was a new way of doing business, and it deserved a thorough examination.
Years later, as it turned out, it seems no one cares that much about their privacy. (Cue angry commenters.) Sure, sure, someone cares. A portion of the population cares, and cares deeply. But on a grander scale – the one involving millions, sometimes billions, of user accounts, it’s obvious that a large majority of people got over their Gmail privacy concerns – and their Facebook concerns, for that matter. Over a billion people let Facebook sell their data to advertisers today, for example.
In Google’s case, people got over it because Gmail, at launch, was demonstrably better than the competition. It was worth selling a little bit of your
soul privacy in order to take a dramatic leap forward in email.
Not only have people since moved on from the Gmail privacy debate, they’ve done so at the expense of Microsoft and Yahoo mail. Gmail now has over 425 million users, more than Hotmail (~360 million) and Yahoo mail. Only a third of Outlook.com’s 25+ million users actually switched from Gmail at launch, and it’s hard to say how many remain today. Even if Outlook.com brought Microsoft back into closer competition with Gmail’s user numbers, it doesn’t also make bringing back the “privacy fears” outrage a clever marketing tactic.
Instead, it comes across as a desperate one.
Like, grasping-at-straws desperate.
Microsoft may argue that these unconcerned citizens are just uninformed. “Ignorance is bliss,” you know. They don’t know, but they should, so Microsoft will step up and educate them.
To wit, via Scroogled:
Your email is nobody else’s business. But Google makes it their business. Even if you’re not a Gmail user, Google still goes through your personal email sent to Gmail and uses the content to sell ads.
The real reason why people don’t seem to be taking extra precautions to keep companies away from their personal data, whether Google, Facebook or otherwise, is because the actual fallout just isn’t there. (Yes, there are always cases here and there where someone gets fired or arrested for posting something on Facebook. But let’s get real, anyone stupid enough to post “I robbed a bank!” on Facebook was probably stupid enough to get arrested without Facebook’s help.)
The worst-case scenario, as Microsoft happily points out on Scroogled, seems to be more accurate, better targeted advertisements.
Oh, the horror.