Microsoft to Google: We Were Going to Call You, But … We Lost Your Number. … Yeah, That's the Ticket!
What an odd bit of coincidence this is. Amid increasing scrutiny of Google’s privacy practices and its planned $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick–which some say would concentrate too much consumer data in its hands–Microsoft and Ask.com are calling upon “leading search providers, online advertising companies and privacy advocates” to develop “privacy principles” for the search industry. “We have been thinking deeply about privacy related to search and online advertising and believe it is critical to evolve our privacy principles,” Peter Cullen, Microsoft’s chief privacy strategist, told the Seattle Times. “We’re really focusing on: how do we be more transparent … how do we give customers more control over what they want.”
To that end, Microsoft has promised to make search-query data anonymous after 18 months by permanently removing cookie IDs, the entire IP address and other identifiers from search terms. The company stated it also plans to “develop new user controls that will enhance privacy, such as letting people search and surf its sites without being associated with a personal and unique identifier used for behavioral ad targeting.”
Which is, of course, exactly the sort of opt-out control that Google has so far refused to permit. Now Google has made several positive adjustments to its data-retention policies recently–in fact, it shortened the lifetime of its cookies earlier this month. But you wouldn’t know it from the beginnings of this “industry dialogue” Microsoft and Ask.com have announced. Because Google wasn’t even asked to participate in the prediscussions that created it. “Google learned about this Microsoft/Ask initiative from reading about it in the press,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, told Search Engine Land. “We have publicly said that we’d support a process for further industry dialogue on online privacy issues.”
Omitting the industry leader from an effort to create “industry-wide standards” in online marketing and advertising does seem a ham-handed way to develop a common industry approach to privacy issues, doesn’t it? “An industry effort really should start on better terms,” said Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan. “Ask, in particular, shouldn’t be playing this game. After being left out of prediscussions on things like nofollow or site maps, excluding Google and Yahoo perhaps might feel like sweet revenge, but privacy is too important for PR games.”