Microsoft vs Google in Spam-Slam-Scam

Please forgive me for doing something that I rarely do, which is to get straight to the point without further ado:

Dear Microsoft,
Outlook.com,
participants in the “Scroogled” campaign.

Something festers in the heart of Redmond. You are being appallingly poor sports, immature and petty, in that you resort to foul play, resorting to blatant lies at worst and wildly misleading accusations at best to gather a following and to turn people against a competitor, and you display a serious case of poor taste in doing so. You, sirs, are not Gentlemen, and your words and actions are certainly not earning my respect.

Somewhat less than best regards,

Me.

There! That wasn’t too difficult, was it? I should do that more, if only I didn’t run the risk of becoming long-term governor of a padded cell. And now, back to being my old, usual longish in the tello, just in case you were beginning to worry about me.

Twice lately I’ve received email notifications from Care2.com where I’m asked to sign a petition against Gmail. And when I say twice, I’d like to point out that I’m under no illusion that there won’t be a third and a fourth time.

For those unfamiliar with Care2.com, it is a petition website where occasionally I’ve signed petitions that rattled my need to feel that I involve myself in matters that matter. Violence against and oppression of women, cruelty towards animals, the prevalent stupidity and attitude of certain leaders of nations, cheaper gas … you get the drift. Back to the matter at hand:

The email subjects were “Is Your Email Being Watched?” and “Our Inboxes Are Being Filled With Spam Ads!”. Aside from different subject lines, and the name of the undersigned, the emails were otherwise identical:

Dear Bjornar,

If you use Gmail, maybe you’ve noticed more emails in your inbox that look like “real” emails but are really spam. Gmail is treating these ads like regular email, but you aren’t allowed to mark them as spam!

And if you don’t use Gmail, don’t think you’re off the hook. Your friends and family on gmail are getting spam directed at them based on the contents of the emails you send them!

Tell Google to stop reading our emails so they can target us for spam.

Google acts like they’ll protect you from spam — which they should. It’s inexcusable for Google to read our personal Gmail messages and send spam ads directly into our inbox that looks like real emails. Reading our emails is a huge violation of privacy and trust!

Google needs to stop sending junk mail to their email clients. They should be protecting us from spam, not sending it to us! Send a message to Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, stop reading our email so you can spam us!

Thank you for taking action,

Kayla C. c
Care2 and ThePetitionSite Team

Only when the “take action” button is pressed to you see that this is petition is managed by Outlook.com, which is part of Microsoft. Why would a company like Microsoft use a petition site to slag its competitor? And are the allegations in the email and on the petition page even true?

Let me have a look.

If you use Gmail, maybe you’ve noticed more emails in your inbox that look like “real” emails but are really spam. Gmail is treating these ads like regular email, but you aren’t allowed to mark them as spam!

Well, this is how the ads look in my inbox:

This shows one ad. I’ve seen two, possibly three but I may not have paid attention, always stacked on top of each other, always above and looking noticeably different from the actual emails, separated from them by a distinct line, with a cross on the right hand to close it, and a dead give away “Ad” marker between sender and subject. And much of the time they’re not even there. In fact, the only thing that has bugged me about the ads was that I had to click back and forth a whole lot just to find one for that screenshot. Feel free not to click on them if you don’t want to. And if you can’t tell them apart from other, actual emails then you’re just daft, and if you are daft then fear not for you are in good company, because the people at Microsoft must surely be daft too.

And of course you can’t mark them as spam. They’re not spam, they’re advertising. They’re what pays for the party, enabling you to use an excellent email service without spending a dime. If you want an ad-free email service, be prepared to pay for it yourself. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m merely pointing out that you have the freedom to choose. Stop whining, please!

And if you don’t use Gmail, don’t think you’re off the hook. Your friends and family on gmail are getting spam directed at them based on the contents of the emails you send them!

Certainly. Any of your friends or family who have chosen to use Gmail will see the same kind of ads, simply because they’re on Gmail and that’s how Gmail does things. You being with a different email provider doesn’t change anything for them. Not to burst your bubble, but the Universe doesn’t revolve around you either, even though Microsoft here seem to want to make you think that it does, though the bluff is a dead giveaway because everyone knows that Microsoft think the Universe revolves around them. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

As for based on the contents, I’ll get back to that in a moment, or about an inch down, if you prefer.

Tell Google to stop reading our emails so they can target us for spam.

Google acts like they’ll protect you from spam — which they should. It’s inexcusable for Google to read our personal Gmail messages and send spam ads directly into our inbox that looks like real emails. Reading our emails is a huge violation of privacy and trust!

Microsoft acts like they don’t know what they’re talking about, which worries me, because they, too, run one of the world’s biggest email services.

There’s a huge difference between reading an email in order to process it properly for your convenience, and reading said email for one’s own amusement or make the content available to others. All reading here mentioned happens automatically, by way of computer. There is no army of industrious low-wage workers who labour over your email; no stiff-lipped, pin-stripe suit executives who glare disapprovingly at your correspondence through horn-rimmed glasses.

Aside from enabling Gmail to show you context-relevant advertising, your email is being read by their computers in order to (including, but not limited to) …

  1. sort the chaff from the wheat – in other words tell spam emails (you know you don’t want those) apart from legitimate messages,
  2. spot and eliminate viruses (you really don’t want those),
  3. allow you to easily find email messages messages by using the search feature,
  4. enable you to apply filters that can do all sorts of tricks according to your heart’s desire,
  5. allow you to read the email messages on the screen (how would they be able to show it to you, if they weren’t allow to access it?),

And yes, they also look for keywords that will enable them to pick adverts to show you that are, possibly, more relevant and likely to make you click on them, than just a random collection of ads that may be totally irrelevant, certainly uninteresting, possibly even annoying (I certainly get more annoyed at Facebook’s ads than Gmail’s).

One thing that Microsoft so conveniently leaves out of their allegations is that they too read your emails. You’re still able to search through emails on Outlook.com. They sort spam from legitimate email. They let you use filters. None of this is possible without accessing the interior content of your emails. So just shut up already.

And do the ads look like real emails? Let’s see if you can spot the one …

I’ll give you a hint: It’s slightly pink, slightly separated from the other emails, and has the clue “Ad” slightly and very discretely printed on it. Click the pic for a bigger view if you can’t tell by this one.

Am I laying it on a little too thickly? Yes, quite possibly. I do, because I know that Microsoft’s rhetoric relies on people getting riled up not bothering to look for themselves, and many of those whose attention they attract may well never have used or even seen Gmail with their own eyes. I don’t think you’re stupid, or daft. I simply want you to look at this, look at what Microsoft is saying, and think to yourself, “Hey! I’m not that stupid!”

Google needs to stop sending junk mail to their email clients. They should be protecting us from spam, not sending it to us! Send a message to Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, stop reading our email so you can spam us!

Again, Gmail does not send junk mail to their users, they place ads next to or immediately above the email messages. As for protecting us from spam, Gmail has one of the best spam filters I’ve had the pleasure of using. The only advertising emails I receive these days, ones that don’t go into the spam folder, come from companies, websites and organizations that I have signed up with myself, and whose mailing lists I simply haven’t been bothered to unsubscribe from yet.

Back in the day when I used Microsoft’s Hotmail on a regular basis, what in these days has transformed into Outlook.com, I saw ads all the time. Most of them were totally irrelevant, most of them were quite intrusive, some were annoying. I don’t think I ever clicked on a single one, except possibly by accident.

I’m not going to say that Outlook.com sucks. It’s probably a great email service. They certainly have a considerable following. I even have an account there myself, in fact I’ve had several over the years, but I simply don’t use it much anymore. I don’t know how much advertising they throw at their users, or how they pick their ads. And after Microsoft’s slagging campaign I’m not really sure I want to find out.

Dear Microsoft and Outlook.com. Rather than trying to capture an audience by advertising the stronger points of your own product, you resort to lies and slander to turn the public against your competitors. There’s something wrong with your mindset. You’re acting like spoilt children running an American election campaign, for crying out loud. You’re maliciously using a (to my knowledge) well-reputed petition website (Care2.com) to front your cause, possibly detracting from their credibility. It’s beneath dignity, it’s grinding my gears and giving me a headache. Please stop.

Disclaimer: I do not work for Google or Care2 or any companies mentioned. I have not been asked by anyone to write this, and I do not receive money or any other favours from anyone for doing so. Nor am I organized against Microsoft or Outlook.com in any way. This blog post is a personal statement, and the words, thoughts and opinions presented herein are my own. Heck, with the time I spent writing this, I’m darn well going to take full credit for it, too.

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