How Microsoft's 'Scroogled' Ads Are Misleading You

Is 'scroogled' a word? If you believe Microsoft's  bold and sometimes brash ad campaign, the answer is yes. Ever since the tech giant introduced the term in a series of video advertisements last year, Google has been under fire.

Microsoft's biggest beef is centered on Google Shopping. As the fine print indicates on Google's product search engine, many results are sponsored. In Microsoft's eyes, this effectively hurts users who are looking for honest search results.

In one of its TV spots, Microsoft provides the following definition:

"Scroogled [skr-oo-gulld], verb. 1. The new Google practice of selling their shopping search results to a high bidder."

The campaign expands

While this crusade initially focused on paid results, Microsoft's anti-Google marketing has expanded in recent months. In an assortment of new T-shirts, mugs, and sweatshirts for sale in the Microsoft Store, phrases like "Google is taking advantage of you" and "Google steals your data" are everywhere. A particularly striking T-shirt design likens the Chrome logo to a shady private eye, with the words "I'm watching you" beneath.

Courtesy Microsoft Scroogled store.

Why Microsoft has a point

This is fair criticism. Google's privacy issues have been well documented. In February, it leaked that Android app developers had secret access to users' personal information without consent, and more recently, a U.S. Senator asked the FTC to probe Google's new terms of service.

Most offensively, the company's updated TOS includes a disclaimer that profile names and photos may be used in ads. Google says anyone can opt out, but privacy advocates are quick to mention that it still misleads users.

Imagine you gave an angry restaurant review while in the midst of a drinking binge one night, only to see it pop up in a worldwide marketing campaign three months later. Yes, you probably should have been more careful with the language you used, and yes, you did sign Google's TOS, so your comments were fair game.

Still, if given the choice between this and an alternative search engine that didn't sell your opinions to the highest bidder, wouldn't it make sense to choose the latter? It's not like you are getting a piece of the ad revenue.

And this, ladies and gentleman, is the trade-off Microsoft is banking on. The company is essentially using its Scroogled campaign to make sure users understand that they have a choice.

There are no saints

That doesn't mean Microsoft is perfect, however. Redmond faced privacy problems of its own when Bing integrated with Facebook back in 2010, and more recently, its data centers have come under fire. According to a Wired report earlier this month, Microsoft admitted it does not encrypt its server-to-server data communications. This effectively means the NSA is able to hack into the company's trove of private user data, which is something Google is protected against.

Although Larry Page and Co. don't sell any anti-Microsoft merch just yet, maybe they should start. Media outlets like The Guardian have already exposed a link between Outlook and NSA surveillance, and the agency can also reportedly tap Skype calls. The company continues to deny that it's a proverbial open book, but no matter whom you believe, one thing is clear: Google may sell your personal information to advertisers, but Microsoft can't protect it from government snoops.

What it all means

As The Washington Post revealed last month, the U.S. and U.K.'s MUSCULAR project has accessed Google and Yahoo data centers in the past. Microsoft has not been named a specific target, but it's naive to think they've been spared from Uncle Sam and John Bull's watchful eye.

For a company that so righteously acts as the defender of all things holy in the search engine space, it's shocking to see such a gaping security hole. A Microsoft executive stated as recently as two weeks ago that it's "reviewing" the system, but no one knows how long that will take. Until the company officially announces server-to-server data is encrypted, users should be cautious. This includes anyone who maintains an account on Skype, Bing, Windows, and Office, in addition to Xbox, Surface and Windows Phone devices.

So, the next time you see a Scroogled ad, remember that the entire concept of Microsoft's crusade against Google is misleading. Neither company is a saint when it comes to privacy. 

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Fool contributor Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google, and Yahoo!. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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