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Spy or Die

I just read Murani’s piece about Bing Now in which he pointed out that it exposes Microsoft to privacy criticism. But I think that’s exactly what Microsoft needs to start doing. Fast.

Microsoft may be making a very shortsighted mistake by pigeonholing themselves as the 100% privacy-respecting cloud. It may appeal to some, but I strongly doubt there’s enough demand out there not to be invaded by the likes of Google to offset what Microsoft stands to lose by turning their backs on the more visible forms of consumer data mining. From my view it’s in their interests now to backpedal steadily and drop the populist marketing rhetoric and start heading in the other direction, starting subtle with things like this Bing Now and eventually when it becomes less incendiary to go all out and Do Evil, scroogle and compete more effectively with Google.

Over time consumers will continue to care less and less about privacy, and more and more about how well Google Now and Field Trip assembles relevant cards, how well Google Maps predicts traffic and guess that the next place you want to get directions for based on your history and where you are now is your chiropractor without your having to type that in, how well Google Instant Search and autosuggest and Chrome’s prefetching guesses where your next stop will be etc.

Picking your Internet advertising outfit is somewhat simple — if you want to think harder about it than just going straight to Google: Who will get my ads in front of the eyes of people most likely to give me money for the fewest dollars, or who will get me the most money if I put a banner ad space on my site or app.

That’s basically it, and the margin of effectiveness in this capacity between Microsoft and Google, largely on account of Google’s better and more prolific math and data mining and applications of that information in their ventures, will continue to be pronounced, Google’s reputation as the go-to company for advertising will grow increasingly solidified, Google will be able to deliver more for less and make more money at the same time than Microsoft, there will continue to be very little reason to go to Microsoft (unless if Microsoft, I suppose, tries to poach customers from Google by operating Bing Ads at a major loss for a long time). This gap will widen over time if Microsoft leaves itself at a major disadvantage.

Google chair Eric Schmidt, in another one of his moments of excessive candor, made an abstract attempt to characterize how far is too far with respect to privacy in this game: “There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” I’m okay with that. If you want more specifics about the creepy line, read this, and then maybe take a look at this.

And don’t forget that largely out of a desire not to do as much business with China because of the pervasive government-orchestrated corporate espionage and human rights activists-like privacy invasion to which those people subject Google customers and customers of many other businesses, including Microsoft, Google pulled out of China. Meanwhile, Microsoft capitalized on the event and moved in as deep as they could. Gotta get those Bing widgets on all those Chinese Android phones, here’s our window! Censorship? No problem, we got apps for that!

Removing collecting data on consumer behavior as aggressively as legally and as politically acceptable from the plate of options down the line in an attempt to get their latest email/cloud revamped services off the ground is likely self-defeating and the longer they do it the farther behind Google they will fall and the more difficult and embarrassing it will become to do a 180 when it eventually becomes obvious that they have no choice. Scratch “eventually” – it’s obvious now. Get with the program, Microsoft.

Doug Simmons