With New Ad Campaign, Microsoft Bets The Farm On Privacy Issue

microsoft-privacyIt’s been almost a year since Microsoft first pledged to default-enable Do Not Track in Internet Explorer 10, setting off an urgent debate about the future of third-party ad tracking which continues to this day. The company has endured attacks both withering (“paternalistic,” said Evidon) and mild (“absolutely not helpful,” offered IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg), imploring a change of heart.

All in vain. Immovable in so many things, Microsoft has proved equally so on the privacy question – which is at the heart of a new consumer marketing campaign that launches today.

“Your Privacy Is Our Priority” features TV, radio, print and online ads that create an emotional connection based on the idea that even big time sharers need some personal privacy.

“Through modern tracking technologies such as cookies and beacons, a site could share your browsing history with others,” says the voiceover in one TV spot. “Microsoft is finding ways to give you more control over things you want private. That’s why we’ve added protection in Internet Explorer and included Do Not Track with the belief that one day it too will give you more control.”

The ad copy would’ve been astonishing three years ago, assuming some end-user knowledge of the mechanics of digital ad tracking. This should put to rest any lingering fantasies that Microsoft may yet reverse course on Do Not Track in IE10.

But Microsoft faces some hurdles in its “privacy by design” push, not least of which is Mozilla’s Firefox browser.

Firefox has long worn the mantle of privacy and recently solidified that position with plans to block third-party cookies by default, regardless of a user’s Do Not Track setting. From a consumer marketing standpoint, Mozilla’s move is essentially an end-run around Microsoft’s progressive stance on Do Not Track, a mechanism that has yet to be defined by stakeholders in the World Wide Web Consortium. What’s going on here? One-upmanship? A anti-tracking arms race? Either way, it’s a cold war indeed for advertisers and long-tail publishers.

Gradually, advertisers are accepting that the world is going to change. At the recent Programmatic I/O conference in San Francisco, many attendees had already begun speculating on how the display ad market would be impacted by a 30% reduction in cookie data. Jointly, Internet Explorer and Firefox command enough market share in the browser space that, were a majority of their cookie data to disappear, the effectiveness of digital advertising would be significantly impacted.

“If browsers block cookies, a significant amount of money will go away” is how AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley put it.

“Browsers taking privacy into their own hands is a scary proposition for the space,” agreed Andrew Casale, VP Strategy, Casale Media. But he added,The fate of ad exchanges is not linked to the cookie though.”

That’s an important point. Even without third-party cookie data, or a viable replacement in the form of device fingerprinting technologies, the ad targeting business will continue. And it will be dominated by very large companies with strong first-party consumer relationships – companies like Google, Yahoo, Aol, Amazon and eBay.

And, oh yeah, Microsoft.

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  1. Digital Ad Enthusiast

    Really Microsoft? Do you know anything about the collection of user behavior and data online because none of the examples you provided in your ad are applicable. Do you think marketers care if your daughter fainted while dissecting a fly? Also, please do not forget where the majority of your revenue comes from…Ads!

    The majority of digital advertising today relies on some type of data to inform targeting decisions – as it should. The revenue that results from this advertising is also what allows the greater population to access information on the web free of cost.

    Instead of sweeping the issue at hand under the rug, your time would be better suited towards addressing the issue at hand. What is needed is greater public education about what type of data is collected and opt-out opportunities. Why not work in conjunction with third party regulators to better protect consumers and arm them with the knowledge they need to make their own informed decisions.

  2. AdtechExech

    Digital Ad Enthusiast – are you really saying that the majority of MSFT income is from ads? You’re very, very wrong…

    Perhaps if you were more concerned with the efficacy of the tactics you defend and the fact that people do not like to be spied on, tracked, traced and sold… you’d realize that most online ad tech businesses are built on a false premise and are essentially a parasite on the advertiser’s business goals.

    Advertising is an attempt to trigger an emotional reaction in the consumer. The fact that many people do not understand this core fact, means they’re in the wrong business. They should be stock traders or an insurance actuaries. Businesses that require no creativity or emotion in their pursuit of profits yet use a massive amount of data mining and heuristics to reach towards their goals.

    What Microsoft is doing is exactly what you fail to understand. They are using emotional reactions to trigger a particular action. In this case, it’s used to educate and to pull people towards their products and away from Google… it worked really well, even for you!

    The industry has grown exponentially in the last decade and yet the efficacy of ads has declined and or remained flat… none of these technologies help the consumer or the advertiser for they take from both and only benefit the provider of said technology… in other words, they’re parasites.