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Microsoft ad campaign criticising Gmail cleared by watchdog

James Temperton
26 Mar 2014
Scroogled
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A recent Microsoft radio spot criticised Gmail for scanning emails, leading to complaints of misleading advertising

Microsoft can lay into Google’s policy of scanning all your emails as much as it likes after a controversial campaign was cleared by the UK’s advertising watchdog.

In a radio ad Microsoft had said that while Gmail scans all your emails to sell adverts, Outlook.com doesn’t. The campaign, which aired on UK radio, said:

"Gmail scans every word of your e-mails to sell ads. But Outlook.com doesn't."

This was preceded by a nonsense sentence in pig-Latin, with Microsoft saying that people who used Gmail need to use it to stop Google from scanning their emails. Microsoft added that people could "opt out" of personalised ads in Outlook.com and urged people to ditch Gmail.

Two complaints were received by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), but the UK watchdog has sided with Microsoft, saying that the advert didn’t breach rules about misleading advertising.

In its response to the complaints, Microsoft said that it undertook "protective scanning" and believed that this was “expected, accepted and encouraged by both consumers and government regulators”. Microsoft argued that it believed people would understand the difference between scanning for security purposes and scanning for advertising purposes.

The ASA agreed and dismissed the complaint. It noted Microsoft's distinction between protective scanning and targeted scanning.

"Because the ad made clear that the privacy claims were in relation to ad targeting, which Outlook.com does not carry out, we therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading," the ASA ruling explained.

The advert is the latest in a long-line of Microsoft attacks on Google. In late 2012 the company launched its 'Scroogled' campaign, which aimed to drive people away from Google’s services. A number of Microsoft’s criticisms of Google have centred on user privacy. Microsoft has even accompanied the campaign by selling 'Scroogled' hats, mugs, hoodies and t-shirts.

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