Microsoft to Corporate America: Fear Google

Last Updated Apr 12, 2010 2:26 PM EDT

Microsoft (MSFT) has plenty of reason to fear Google (GOOG): online search dominance, enough ad revenues to fund anything, Android eating smartphone OS market share, Google Apps user-base growing at a dizzying rate, and an upcoming netbook operating system that threatens Windows on the low end.

So Microsoft has tried hitting Google where the company is weak: on privacy. Why? Because the people in Redmond know that privacy is a big concern for enterprise users, and what better way to fight against Google Apps growth?

Microsoft's effort to attack Google on privacy grounds has been going on since at least 2008. In the last week or so, Microsoft has lobbed two privacy salvos toward Google. First it posted a video that claimed "Google Chrome collects every keystroke you make" and that Internet Explorer 8 "keeps your information private through two address bars and In Private browsing." The video came down shortly after it went up in the first place. Why? Maybe because a number of blogs pointed out that a brief amount of analysis proved that the charges were ineptly conceived and badly executed. Next came the Microsoft promise that it wouldn't read Hotmail users' emails as a way to tailor ads, underscoring that Google does this with Gmail.

That Google trolls Gmail content to better serve up advertising is hardly new, and most people apparently don't care. The mistake is to think that Microsoft is trying to sway consumers. It's not. The company wants to influence enterprises, governments, and other large potential cloud users. When it comes to cloud services, trust is key, and Microsoft is using data privacy issues to create a perception that it will have cloud services that protect information -- and that Google has the opposite track record.

Last fall, our sister site TechRepublic talked to a small panel of U.S. IT executives. Although the size of the group was small enough to not be statistically meaningful, it was interesting to see how some IT execs trusted Microsoft over Google two to one, as the devil they knew versus the new face on the block. If IT professionals generally fall into a similar pattern, then the issue of privacy becomes a potentially big weapon, because privacy equates in many ways to data security. Not only are corporate customers in play, but so are governments as cloud service users, and Microsoft badly wants that business. Expect to see the company bring up the privacy issue against Google a lot more in the coming year.

Telescope Image: Flickr user philosophygeek, CC 2.0. Photo Manipulation: Erik Sherman.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.