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Google privacy chief blasts Microsoft’s “Scroogled” campaign at RSA Conference

Ellen Messmer | March 1, 2013
You know people are sensitive about their online privacy when Microsoft seeks advantage over Google by running TV ads that claim anyone using services like gmail gets "scroogled" because Google sells keyword and behavior data to marketers.

You know people are sensitive about their online privacy when Microsoft seeks advantage over Google by running TV ads that claim anyone using services like gmail gets "scroogled" because Google sells keyword and behavior data to marketers.

Google chief privacy officer Keith Enright, speaking on an RSA Conference panel this week featuring fellow chief privacy officers from Microsoft, Facebook and Mozilla, took the opportunity to shoot back at Microsofts "Scroogled" advertising campaign, which features people talking about how using gmail will result in getting advertising from marketers. The "dont get Scroogled" campaign, which is running on primetime television and as an online petition against Google, is "misleading" and "intellectually dishonest," Enright said.

Microsofts Brendon Lynch countered that it was helping consumers "make an informed choice."

Not surprisingly, the panel drew a big crowd at the conference, with moderator Trevor Hughes of the International Association of Privacy Professionals keeping it lively by prodding panelists to share how privacy policy really evolves in the powerful organizations where they work. They acknowledged it can be an awkward balance between what might be the consumer's wish to be spared the subject of massive data collection and marketing, versus the corporate interest in making a buck.

"Someone's surprise in a negative way could be someone else's surprise in a positive way," Microsoft's Lynch said.

One big topic tackled by the panel is the push toward adopting "do-not-track" functionality in browsers, and Lynch said "privacy is increasingly becoming a feature," with Microsoft enabling this by default in Internet Explorer 10. He said Microsoft believes that 35% of its customers have indicated they are concerned about tracking of cookies.

Alex Fowler, chief privacy officer at Firefox maker Mozilla, said Mozilla's software development in terms of privacy-enabling features now adheres more or less to Apple's Safari browser model. By way of example, he said if someone looked at four sites one morning, it would be typical for 120 third-party companies to set 300 cookies, but at the browser re-set, those cookies would disappear. What Mozilla is doing is "not as extreme as stopping all cookies," he said.

Panelists seemed to agree that there is no complete "do-not-track" technical standard at the World Wide Web Consortium that would form a uniform basis for how cookies can be allowed or dis-allowed in a browser by the user and recognized by the web site. "We're working with the W3C to get the world to a place where there's a common standard," said Lynch.

Enright, senior privacy counsel at Google, made the argument for the role of advertising in enabling free services like gmail, though he admitted there's a need for balance.

 

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