Microsoft Sounds Privacy Alarm Again

Backed by its own survey data, Microsoft asserts that consumers value their online privacy. Will Web services providers heed the warning?

Online privacy

The majority of Web users are concerned about their online privacy, according to new survey results from Microsoft.

The software giant polled 4,000 consumers in the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K. as part of the Your Privacy Type campaign, which launched in April. Mary Snapp, deputy general counsel for Microsoft, said in an April 22 post in the Microsoft on the Issues blog that in addition to targeted ad campaigns in Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Mo., the company had implemented "a new online resource for consumers that will help them learn about their privacy behaviors and take steps to shape their online personas."

The online resource includes a quiz to help visitors determine their "privacy type"—from a carefree Web surfer to a locked-down, privacy-conscious social media user and points in between. After taking the quiz in her own home, Snapp reported: "I'm a 'Privacy Please' individual, while my husband is more of the 'Carefree Surfer' type."

Microsoft's latest data indicates that most Web surfers side with her, at least in spirit.

According to Microsoft, 84 percent of respondents expressed concern about their online privacy. However, comparatively few are doing anything about it.

"That particular finding was not surprising by itself, but interesting when compared to only 47 percent of the respondents who were actively taking measures to protect their privacy online. There's a wide gap between interest and action," wrote Snapp in a May 13 blog post. The purpose of the company's privacy campaign, in part, is to "understand the gap between interest and action," she added.

Microsoft also discovered distinct Web usage patterns and differing attitudes toward online privacy between users in the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K.

Only 27 percent of Germans are willing to provide their email address, the lowest showing of any country polled by the company. Germans are also less likely to keep an active social media account. In contrast, 87 percent of respondents in the U.S. had active social media accounts.

Internet users in the U.K. are more likely to take measures to protect their online privacy (51 percent). French users are more open to sharing their birth date (63 percent).

Of late, Microsoft has been vocal on online privacy, particularly as a knock against its chief rival in the online services space, Google.

In February, Microsoft set its sights on Gmail and revived the "Scroogled" ad campaign to promote its Webmail service. Arguing that emails between friends and loved ones "should be personal," in one ad, the narrator ominously said that "Google crosses the line and goes through every single Gmail. Every word. In every email. To and from everyone. To sell ads, based on your most personal messages."

"And there's no way to opt out of this invasion of your privacy," claimed the voice-over. Microsoft, on the other hand, contends that its email services "do not use the content of customers' private emails, communications or documents to target advertising."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...