Who are Google and Microsoft Really Protecting with New Policy Updates?

By Heidi Smith | Jun 20, 2014
More Articles by Heidi

Microsoft logo and Google logoBoth Google and Microsoft announced policy updates in the last week or so, with Google announcing a revamp of their AdWords policies rolling out September 2014, and Microsoft providing updated terms of use and privacy statement. I know ALL of you read through the Terms of Use statements, Policy Updates, and Privacy Statements when you have them placed in front of you by all the different products and services you use (wink wink), so I’ve outlined the basics of these new updates for you and how they may affect you as a user and an advertiser.

Transparency & Privacy

Though both Google and Microsoft have weathered previous storms around transparency and privacy rather well in the recent past, users are continuing to demand more from these companies who have access to so much personal information.

In the recent updates, Google reiterates that transparency and privacy are core company principles that apply to all areas of Google, including AdWords. Google wants advertising to be clear, honest, and to not violate a user’s trust or privacy. This includes using a clear ad display URL so users know where they are being directed if they click on an ad, no implied affiliations (such as saying you are partnered with Google when you are not), and no websites whose primary purpose is information harvesting. These AdWords updates are not only enforcing and slightly expanding Google’s power over advertisers, but I would suspect that Google hopes to increase the trust users have in their search engine, and in ads users see, as well.

Microsoft also included transparency and privacy as key components to their updates. They speak to being more transparent with their terms and policies, as well as ensuring a user’s privacy when they use Microsoft products and services. Again, these updates seem to be geared towards instilling trust in users around the company and the company’s products, as well as trust in the advertising that Microsoft offers.

lock image with "privacy"; book image for "transparency"; circle with mouse cursor image for protection

Microsoft’s Privacy – Transparency – Protection symbols

User Protection

Google and Microsoft take on user protection in different ways with the recent updates. A majority of Google AdWords’s new Policy Center focuses around prohibited content and practices, and “ethical” and “honest” advertising (based on their standards, of course). They expect advertisers to follow the rules they have laid out, and go into detail regarding:

  • Dishonest behavior
  • Offensive/inappropriate content
  • Abuse of the Google Ad Network
  • Dangerous products and services, etc.

Google AdWords Advertising Policies logoWhile these restrictions primarily focus on a user’s experience and safety, Google also benefits from these restrictions. If they allowed advertisers to promote weapons or recreational drugs for example, I would be hard-pressed to see how that would end well for Google. Despite the profit made by Google from such advertisements, the negative effects and eventual backlash of providing people with those types of items through advertisements would probably be far reaching – especially to a company that prides itself on its “user first” image and brand mentality.

Microsoft’s approach to their updated user protection revolves around always respecting users’ privacy when they are using Microsoft products and services, such as Outlook and Bing. The example they provide is that the contents of your email inbox won’t be used as a way to target ads to you. For example, if you are emailing with a friend about your upcoming wedding, Microsoft will keep that information private, instead of invading your privacy and showing you ads for The Knot, your local wedding photographer, etc. With how invasive the “big business” digital companies can be these days and the access they have to our lives, I suppose it is reassuring to have this actually included in Microsoft’s privacy statement.


Another key thought running through these changes is simplicity. Google and Microsoft indicate they actually want you to understand your rights, how they protect your privacy, and what policies you need to follow – as a user and as an advertiser. Both companies pronounce easier, simpler, more transparent guidelines to ensure you are staying within their policies, as well as providing statements in simpler layman’s terms with the hope that you may actually read the documentation that could affect your experience with the product/service.

Google and Microsoft want to protect their users, and made user experience and user opinion a core influence with these updates – not a new take for either company. But both companies are looking to protect themselves more than ever as well, as best they can anyways, considering the versatility, freedom, and sometimes maliciousness that exists online.

What do you think of these new changes? Do you think they are looking out for themselves, or users, or both? Reach out to me on Google+ or Twitter with your thoughts!

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