Microsoft today took an attack ad swing at Google with a new episode in its nine-month "Scroogled" campaign, blasting Gmail's practice of dropping ads resembling emails into customers' inboxes.
In the latest iteration, Microsoft took umbrage at the redesigned Gmail for adding promotional ads to users' inboxes, dubbing the practice as spamming.
"Google is now spamming Gmail users by placing ads in their inbox," Microsoft's ad intoned. "Once again, Google is crossing the line."
Scroogled is an anti-Google campaign that Microsoft has waged since November 2012. Before today, the most recent attack was in April, when Microsoft highlighted what it said were privacy flaws in the Android app store.
In May, Google introduced a Gmail redesign that featured several pre-defined tabs for a customer's inbox, including one labeled Promotions where vendor-paid ads were segregated. Ads aren't new to Gmail: The service's business model relies on them.
But Microsoft blasted Google nonetheless.
"Google violates your privacy by reading every single word of every single email sent to and from Gmail accounts so they can better target you with ads," stated the Scroogled.com site. "Now, they're going one step further over the line by using that same personal information to spam your inbox with ads that look like real emails."
Microsoft again pitched its Outlook.com as the alternative to Gmail. "[We] don't spam your inbox with ads that look like personal email," Microsoft said.
The Scroogled concept has been attributed to Mark Penn, a longtime political and media strategist who worked as an adviser to former President Bill Clinton during his administration and on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Penn was hired by Microsoft in 2012.
Today's refreshed Scroogled campaign also resumed a tactic Microsoft first used in February, when it combined its negative ad with an online petition. Then, a former ad executive said Microsoft was borrowing ideas from political and activist advertising.
"This is more than just an ad. This is a fully realized advocacy campaign," said Peter LaMotte, now an analyst with Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications consultancy.
Today's petition was addressed to Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, and demanded that Google stop sending ads to inboxes. "Please stop sending us Gspam and stop reading our emails to target us with ads," the petition read. As of 1 p.m. ET, the petition had collected over 7,600 signees, nearly half of them in the prior 30 minutes.
Microsoft's petition was entirely symbolic: Google will not abandon its primary revenue source -- advertising -- or yank ads from its Gmail service.
Gmail users who don't want to see such ads can block individual campaigns, or disable the Promotions tab with the "Configure inbox" tool under the gear icon.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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