New Microsoft Privacy Campaign Promotes Consumer Control

Campaign will stir debate over Do Not Track

Microsoft is once again marketing its brand as the "good guy" privacy company. The new campaign, for Microsoft's Do Not Track browser, plugs right into consumer fears that their privacy is being compromised by companies who are tracking a consumer's every click and collecting information about them "even before birth."

"Some things you'll share online. Some things maybe not," reads the print ad. "Microsoft is trying to help. By adding protection in Internet Explorer and including Do Not Track with the belief that one day it too will give you more control. Your privacy is our priority."

Control is the operative word in the campaign which begins today and will run through the end of June on TV, in newspapers, online and out of home. Microsoft research released last January found that 45 percent of consumers said they feel they have little or no control over the personal information companies gather about them.

"Privacy is core to the Microsoft brand. It's not a flash in the pan for Microsoft," said Ryan Gavin, Microsoft's general manager for Windows. "Privacy is starting to reach a tipping point. Companies that ignore the growing concern about how they handle consumer information, do so at their own peril."

Though Google isn't mentioned by near, it doesn't take much of an algorithm to come up with Google (which settled with the Federal Trade Commission for $22.5 million for violating Safari privacy settings) on the dark of the privacy debate.

Where Microsoft is airing the TV ad (created by Wunderman), is just as interesting as the campaign itself: in Washington, D.C., where the privacy debate rages on; and in Kansas City, Mo., where Microsoft competitor Google has launched Google Fiber. The campaign will also air later this spring in the U.K., Germany and France, where Google is tussling with the European Union over Google's privacy policies, as well as antitrust questions.

As part of the campaign, Microsoft will also offer new privacy education resources on its website, including a quiz consumers can take to find out their "privacy type" and learn how to manage privacy settings.

"Consumers want more control, but they don't know what actions to take," Gavin said. "This isn't just about an ad, but about giving consumers a set of tools."

The new campaign isn't the first time Microsoft has taken aim at Google by building the Microsoft brand as the privacy-safe alternative. In February, Microsoft launched its "Don't get scroogled by Gmail" campaign promoting its Outlook email service, which, unlike Google's, doesn't scan consumer emails in order to target ads. 

Microsoft's timing for the launch of the campaign is prescient. On Wednesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) scheduled a Senate Commerce hearing titled, "A Status Update on the Development of Voluntary Do-Not-Track Standards."

Even though Microsoft is not testifying at the hearing, it is bound to be the center of a lot of discussion because of its Do Not Track browser launched last June with the release of Windows 8. Privacy hawks applauded the browser. But the advertising industry, which last year promised to work with browser companies to honor a Do Not Track setting, said it would not honor Microsoft's because it was on by default and doesn't give the consumer proper notice and choice to make an informed decision. Yahoo also said it wouldn't honor the Microsoft browser signal. 

"Today Do Not Track is a technology that holds promise, but we made the decision to turn it on by default," Gavin said. "That's one example of how we'll be forward leaning when it comes to privacy." 

The public spat over whether Do Not Track should be opt-in or opt-out, and Mozilla's new plan to consider blocking cookies, has only fanned the flames of the privacy debate in Washington.

Rockefeller, skeptical of the ad industry's self-regulatory program that allows consumers to opt-out of targeted ads, is likely to give the ad industry a hard time this week.

"[The] industry made a public commitment to honor Do Not Track requests from consumers but has not yet followed through," Rockefeller said in a statement. "I plan to use this hearing to find out what is holding up the development of voluntary Do Not Track standards that should have been adopted at the end of last year."

Microsoft's new campaign will give Rockefeller and other privacy hawks added ammunition.