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Microsoft Gets Snarky With Google Via Swag

Microsoft's Scroogled campaign tries selling shirts, mugs, and hats to attack perceived Google privacy threats. Will this sell people on Bing?

After a year of disparaging Google in ads, Microsoft is taking its "Scroogled" campaign to t-shirts, mugs, hats, and hoodies. The software giant and self-styled privacy defender has begun selling anti-Google swag on its website.

For a mere $8, about what Microsoft gets in patent licensing fees per Android handset sold, Internet shoppers with an animus against Google (or an appreciation of the absurd) can purchase a coffee mug emblazoned with the Chrome logo and the words, "Keep Calm While We Steal Your Data."

Other options include the Scroogled "Spider Web" T-shirt and the Scroogled "I'm Watching You" t-shirt, though the chief appeal of these two items lies in the overwrought item descriptions, which aren't actually printed on either shirt.

The website copy accompanying the spider-themed shirt reads: "Google's the spider. You're the fly. You probably know what happens next."

Flight from Google? That's what Microsoft hopes will happen next, but there's not much evidence that the company's ridicule of its rival has translated into new customers. Nine months after savaging Gmail for scanning message content to target ads, Microsoft has attracted 182,067 signatures to its petition to "Tell Google to stop going through your email to sell ads."

If and when the petition reaches 200,000, it appears that Microsoft will send the petition to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, a curious choice given that Google cofounder Larry Page has been CEO since April 2011. A public relations win, perhaps, but the fact that Microsoft can attract almost 200,000 votes for greater privacy doesn't necessarily mean anyone is abandoning Google services or changing his or her behavior.

With regard to search rather than Gmail, Microsoft hasn't managed to grow Bing at the expense of Google. Since December 2012, Bing's global desktop marketshare is up about 1%, according to Net Market Share, from 4.65% to 5.45%. Google's global desktop marketshare dropped significantly during this period, but that appears to be the result of the recent inclusion of Baidu, the major search engine in China, in the Net Market Share statistics. And Google's global mobile search marketshare grew during the same period.

[ Want to learn more about Microsoft's new tablet? See Microsoft Surface 2: Hands-On Review.]

Asked to provide figures documenting the impact of its Scroogled campaign, a Microsoft spokesperson in an email said:

The Scroogled campaign has struck a chord -- millions of people have visited Scroogled.com and hundreds of thousands have signed the petitions to tell Google to stop violating their privacy. These people are concerned about the way Google treats them and their privacy, and want to express themselves and their concerns about Google. The Scroogled shirts and mugs are a fun way for them to do that.

Curiosity about Microsoft's Scroogled.com website shouldn't be taken as conversion. Even so, an article published last month in Ad Age asserts Microsoft's "Scroogled" campaign can be considered a success just because it is getting people to consider Bing.

Were this a case of an anticorporate crusader ridiculing a large company with custom-designed merchandise sold through CafePress.com or Zazzle.com, chances are a threatening legal letter would be enough to derail the campaign. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have tried that approach to prevent parodies.

But confronted by a company of similar size, intimidation isn't going to work. Google doesn't have any good legal options.

"I think it's a pretty clear case of fair use," said EFF intellectual property director Corynne McSherry in an email. "The critical commentary is very clear. Which is not to say that a litigation-shy merchandise provider wouldn't feel intimidated if it did get a threat letter -- unfortunately that's all too common."

Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, agreed that Google doesn't have a trademark claim. "If Microsoft is so freaked out by Google that they need to do this, they must be desperate," he said in a phone interview. "GM doesn't do that to Ford."

Levy suggests Google should take the criticism in stride. "Sometimes being attacked is a form of flattery," he said. "Back in the '70s, some people left off Nixon's enemies list felt they'd been disrespected."

Google appears to be doing just that. In an email, a Google spokesperson said, "Microsoft's latest venture comes as no surprise; competition in the wearables space really is heating up."

Consumerization 1.0 was "we don't need IT." Today we need IT to bridge the gap between consumer and business tech. Also in the Consumerization 2.0 issue of InformationWeek: Stop worrying about the role of the CIO. (Free registration required.)