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Microsoft pledges not to scan hosted mail to target ads, Tim O’Brien says

Microsoft is publicly promising not to engage in the practice of serving up ads based on the contents of emails, according to a report by InfoWorld, citing remarks by Tim O’Brien, during the SaaSCon 2010 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. But unlike Google, Microsoft pledges not to scan users’ email as a way to tailor advertising, he said. With cloud applications, a level of trust now exists between provider and customer that is “almost unprecedented,” O’Brien stressed at the SaaSCon 2010 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The ad-funded model for services, meanwhile, presents opportunities to target ads, he said. Microsoft, he said, will collect information on gender, age, and preferences but will not provide ads based on data directly traceable to a particular user, said O’Brien. One of the approaches for Web-based mail is to crawl email looking for keywords so targeted ads can be furnished, which can be unnerving for a user, O’Brien said. Interviewed afterward, he cited Google as a company with a policy that says it can take this approach. A Google representative confirmed that Google’s Gmail platform performs an automatic software scan for keywords in emails to serve more relevant ads to users. Aside from finger-pointing at Google, O’Brien cited Microsoft’s history as a cloud service provider.


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