Free Apps, Privacy and 'Doing No Evil'

From the you've got to be kidding file:

In addressing privacy concerns raised by those folks who don't necessarily want their word processing software sifting their communications and reporting to a server, Microsoft product manager Melissa Stern said the recently announced freebie Works 9 SE won't scan content for advertising keywords.

Stern tells

"We're serving relevant ads about what we know about Works users. We're not looking at content at all."

...what we know about Works users. Like what? That they bought a cheap PC with Works pre-installed on it?

Certainly, I can understand where Microsoft is coming from here - after the flack it's gotten over programs like WGA, it wants to steer clear of any intimation that it's installing software on people's machines that is reporting personal information back to Redmond.

But online adverting is all about context, and that means scanning content for keywords. When you get a message at Gmail, rest assured that Google has thoroughly scanned that message to drive ad placement. Of course, the whole message is stored on Google's servers, so I suppose a little additional scanning isn't going to compromise the trust consumers seem to have in the search giant to fulfill its credo to "do no evil."

I imagine that future iterations of Google Apps will more completely embrace AdWords, as well. Otherwise, Google won’t make money off it. The new Works 9 SE - which Microsoft is offering as an alternative to OEMs and not directly to consumers - is slightly different. In fact, it's a hard install and not a Web-based app.

But then again, most observers agree that running offline is a key factor for uptake for Google Apps as well. I'll be interested in seeing how vigorously this privacy concern over scanning memos and presentation docs plays out when the bad guy isn't Microsoft.

Ken is IT Business Edge's editorial VP and has been covering tech for more than a decade.

Copyright © 2007 Ken Hardin