Microsoft is launching an attack-ad campaign, warning Safari users that Google might have tracked them without their permission, and promising that Bing won't do the same. It's not clear how widespread the campaign is, but it's certainly an attention-grabber.
The campaign is based on a $22.5 million fine Google agreed to pay to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that Google violated Safari users' privacy by placing tracking cookies when they visited sites in Google's DoubleClick ad network. The FTC said that Google had before then promised that it would not place those cookies on users of the browser. The FTC said that the fine was the largest it had ever levied.
Google never admitted it violated any FTC regulations, although it did agree to pay the fine. The group ConsumerWatchdog.org criticized the settlement because it felt the fine wasn't large enough, and because Google never had to admit it did anything wrong. John Simpson, director of the privacy project at ConsumerWatchdog.org said, "This is letting Google buy its way out of trouble."
Microsoft, though, isn't letting Google out of trouble. In a new ad campaign, it directs Safari users to a Web page showing a stalker peeking through blinds and the headline: :Google hit with record $22.5 million penalty for improperly tracking Safari users." Underneath a "What happened" subheadline, is this text:
- Google promised it would not track Safari users.
- Google broke its promise and tracked Safari users without their permission.
- Google used this improperly obtained information to target ads for profit.
- The FTC took action against Google in the form of a record $22.5 million penalty.
On the right side of the page, the text reads, in part, "If you are a Safari user, Google may have recently tracked you even though it promised it would not." The rest of the text suggests starting to search using Bing, and a link that when clicked, makes Bing the home page. You can see the Web page, below
Microsoft hasn't laid out in detail how the campaign will work. However, a Microsoft spokesman told TheNextWeb:
"This is a limited campaign and the ads will appear online on a variety of sites. We don't have any other details to share."
Microsoft has hit upon Google's primary weak point: People's concerns about how Google violates their privacy. Google has a long history of privacy issues, including not just this one, but one in which Google Street View-gathering vehicles improperly snooped on people's private Wi-Fi networks.
I don't expect the campaign to get Microsoft a tremendous number of new users. But expect Microsoft to continue using the Google-is-evil theme.