09 Dec 2008

Will Microsoft Ever Lead?

I’m going to tell you a story. You tell me if you agree or disagree. Deal?

The European Union has been very vocal in their demand for the search engines to cut the length of time that they store data. They want the engines to nuke and anonymize it after six months. So far, none of the engines have agreed to this. They’re inching their way closer, but no one is there yet. As of today, Google retains data for nine months; Yahoo keeps it for 13; and Microsoft holds it for 18 months.

The European Union isn’t less than happy about this and you have to think it’s only a matter of time before they start taking action. The ruling has been made, the search engines just aren’t following it.

Yesterday, Microsoft put out a call for industry standards for data anonymization, saying that they’ll totally abide by the EU’s privacy requests€¦as long as everyone does it first. They don’t want to be the only ones privatizing data after six months. It’s not fair. Why should they have to do it when no one else does? Why does SHE get to stay up later? Mom!

[throws tantrum]

Sorry.

Personally, I think Microsoft dropped the ball on this one.

I’ll preface it with that I understand their concerns.  They’re worried they’re going to be put at a disadvantage if they volunteer to hold their data for a shorter period of time than everyone else.  The search engines use the data they collect to learn more about their users and better the performance of their engine. But they’re already holding it twice as long as Google. Has it helped them?  It sure doesn’t look like it with reports that in October Google’s 62 percent market share in Europe towered Microsoft’s 1.4 percent.

To me, a little goodwill goes a long way.  I think if you’re Microsoft, here, you take the hit and earn yourself some favor with your users. Instead of being afraid to €˜work alone’, you embrace that and be vocal about putting users privacy concerns ahead of your own agenda.  You become the first engine to do what the European Union has been riding everyone about for two years and you take back some respect. You establish yourself as an industry leader who is proactive and willing to go above and beyond. By sitting there with your arms crossed saying you’re not going to bed until SHE goes to bed, you look like an unruly toddler.

Or maybe that’s me?  I’ve always thought that a lot of good and trust takes place up there on that high road.

[And don’t tell me that Ask tried that approach and it hasn’t worked. Ask no longer runs a search engine. They run an ad engine.]