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Is Microsoft's Privacy Policy Any Different From Google's? Not Really

Carpe diem! Microsoft has seized the opportunity presented by Google's privacy policy changes to tout its online services as alternatives. Ads last week hit the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and USA Today suggesting that people concerned with Google's policies try Microsoft's Bing search engine, Internet Explorer browser, Hotmail email and Office 365 for business documents.

"Google is in the process of making some unpopular changes to some of their most popular products," the ads read. "Those changes, cloaked in language like 'transparency,' 'simplicity' and 'consistency,' are really about one thing: making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say or stream while using one of their services."

Google called Microsoft's statements about its policies "myths" in a post on its Public Policy blog. (We asked Microsoft to comment for this story, but the company declined to do so.)

Is Microsoft's policy any different? Here are several ways it’s just like Google:

  • Microsoft also asks new users to provide personal information, including name, ZIP code and date of birth when they register for a product such as Hotmail . Like a Google profile that's attached to multiple services, this basic information establishes a Windows Live ID that Microsoft uses across its services.
  • Microsoft uses cookies and other technologies to keep track of your interactions with their products to offer a personalized experience.
  • Microsoft collects information about you and combines it with information obtained from other Microsoft services and other companies. It uses the information to provide services such as personalized content and advertising.
  • As with Google, you can also opt-out of receiving targeted ads from Microsoft advertising. To be clear, you'll still see ads: That's how both companies make money.

But Google offers ways to fine-tune the personalized ads you see. For instance, if you are searching for restaurants in San Francisco and you see ads for Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, but you're a vegetarian, you can block that advertiser from appearing in future search results. Google also allows you to adjust the information that other sites get from Google to show you ads.

Sometimes Google doesn't get it right: Based on my browsing activity, I am a 35- to 44-year-old man who is interested in computers and electronics. Well, Google was right on two out of three. But hey, if you are looking to minimize what Google knows about you , this is a good thing.

Curious about who Google thinks you are? Go to Ad Preferences Manager, log into your account and select "Ads on the web" to see categories and demographic data that Google has determined from your acitivity. You can easily edit the information.

If you're still uncomfortable with the idea of tracking your preferences, Google makes it easier to jump ship using its Takeout tool, a part of what it calls Data Liberation Front, a group of Google engineers dedicated to moving data in and out.

Here's how: Sign into your Google account. Go to account settings and choose "data liberation." You'll see a list of services you use that are included in Takeout, such as Google Docs, Picasa and Circles from Google+ . Select the ones you want, and Takeout will generate a zipped file containing a copy of your data and files that you can download to your computer and save as a backup or import into another service. If you decide to leave Google, you will be asked to confirm each service that you want to end, re-enter your password and then delete. Want to leave Microsoft? Good luck. You'll have to extract your data one service at a time and cancel each separately.

Nothing is free. Web companies survive on ad revenue. Google and Microsoft are no exceptions. By tracking your searches, the Web pages you visit and your interactions with other products they own, companies can deliver information that you'll find more relevant – and that generates higher advertising revenue for them. Both companies do it, but Google lets you customize your ad experience and makes it easy to take your data and go.

Article provided by TechNewsDaily, a sister site to