Microsoft and Ask want to be your private dancer

After failing to compete with search giant Google on nearly all fronts, Microsoft and Ask have opened up another one: privacy. On Sunday, Microsoft and Ask.com jointly announced a call for industry cooperation in keeping search data more private. No one believes for a minute that Ask and Microsoft sincerely believe in protecting users' privacy, but exploiting the ever-growing fear of Google is a wise move. And thus far, Google's distant rivals appear to have won an early marketing battle in the undecided war. Why this privacy move is just a publicity stunt — and why it might work nonetheless — after the jump.

  • Inevitable. Microsoft and Ask's recent announcements actually follow Google's own steps in improving its privacy policies. Google was singled out, pressured, and forced into data retention changes by the European Union. Google gets blamed for being the first mover because they were forced to; Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask are lauded for doing the same voluntarily, even though the EU was about to force similar changes on the whole search market anyway.
  • Irrelevant. With less data to be leveraged for advertising, Microsoft and Ask's stores of private data are less valuable to advertisers and less worrisome for users.
  • Ineffective. It's not clear any of these measures are truly effective at protecting what activists idealize as "privacy," and it's not clear that users really care about the issue deeply.
  • And nonetheless: Ingenious. Google has everything to lose in this debate, and Microsoft and Ask everything to gain. Privacy is the one arena where Google's success can be cast as a negative. And the more pervasive Google's online offerings become, the more Ask and Microsoft can raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt about users' private data.