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Why not Microsoft?

The finding that Microsoft is a better privacy performer than Google is also likely to be contentious. Microsoft was awarded "orange" status, two bands better than Google's position. However it is important, for the sake of clarity, to note that Windows Live Space received the more negative "red" rating, while Google's Orkut avoided a black rating and was awarded red status.

The true difference between Google Inc and Microsoft Corp can be defined not so much by the data practices and privacy policies that exist between the two organizations, but by the corporate ethos and leadership exhibited by each. Five years ago Microsoft could reasonably be described as a fundamental danger to privacy. In more recent times the organization appears to have adopted a less antagonistic attitude to privacy, and has at least structurally adjusted to the challenge of creating a privacy-friendly environment.

It is true that even during this more recent period there have been notable privacy disasters, particularly with WGA. It is equally true that Microsoft has failed to achieve the level of transparency that it proclaims to embrace (for example in withholding the length of time that data is retained). These instances have been compounded by a failure of oversight and management. However Microsoft has at least put in place the beginnings of a framework for responsible privacy practice and has created a corporate vision, cloudy though it may be. The organization appears now to be particularly sensitive in the most part to privacy issues and some parts of Microsoft have even pursued the concept of privacy as a market differentiator. We have no evidence that Google has achieved this level of awareness or development.

However we are aware that – in the words of the executives – "ad space is now the only game in town," and with Microsoft needing to play catch-up with Google there is a real threat that the organization could abandon privacy reforms in favor of ad revenue - or at least divert funds away from real protection and toward PR. The 2008 rankings will identify whether this fear will be realized.