Russell Davies: Microsoft shows its mettle by believing in consumer privacy

Do you have a chief privacy officer? You don't? Fair enough. Microsoft does, though. I've just been reading his blog because Microsoft recently made all sorts of interesting ripples in the world of advertising and privacy and it suddenly pricked my interest in the company again. I bet I'm not the only one.

Russell Davies: Microsoft shows its mettle by believing in consumer privacy

Microsoft made these ripples by announcing that the next version of its browser - Internet Explorer 10 - would have Do Not Track enabled by default. This means that, unless the user changed it, all sorts of online advertising services wouldn't be able to drop a cookie on that user's computer and therefore wouldn't be able to measure that person's behaviour or target them with advertising.

In some ways, this isn't a big deal - it's a single setting that can be easily changed by the user and is probably not top of the list of things you would care about when you think about installing a browser. And, frankly, this is a long way from being a reality, as Do Not Track isn't an established protocol and Explorer 10 is still in beta.

But, of course, in other ways, this is a huge and interesting deal. Not a few commentators have pointed out that Microsoft's big rival, Google, makes most of its money from online advertising (though Microsoft does pretty well out of it as well), and this move was widely assumed to be a tactical dig at the company.

Maybe it was, maybe not. What's perhaps more interesting is that Microsoft appears to think that a reputation for being respecters of privacy is a useful corporate resource right now. It is not alone in having a chief privacy officer, or in having a suite of privacy policies and protocols, but - as it has shown with Explorer 10 - it is not afraid to put its privacy principles into action and spend some money doing it (short-term money, at least).

There are a couple of interesting things to notice about this. First, privacy matters. At least, one large corporation that invests in lots of consumer research seems to believe that privacy is an issue that will steer consumer choices. Personally, I think they're right.

Second, Microsoft is still a smart and savvy competitor. Certainly, it is not the dominant business it once was, but it is a long way from resembling the likes of HP or Yahoo!. It has got good, smart products in mobile and gaming - categories that matter these days - and, crucially, there's a whole generation of young technologists who don't really remember Microsoft as a big bully and are quite excited to go and work for someone with its resources and reach.

It just goes to show - sometimes you just need to keep going. And maybe you should get a chief privacy officer.


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