Privacy Group: Microsoft's Website is Worse at Protecting Your Privacy

Microsoft has launched an all-out assault on Google's privacy policies, but when it comes to protecting your privacy, Microsoft's Web site lags behind both Google and Apple, says the privacy organization PrivacyChoice.

PrivacyChoice rates Web sites on a scale of from 0 to 100, based on how well they protect visitors' privacy, with 0 being the worst, and 100 being the best. The group rates Microsoft's site at 79, behind Google at 85, and Apple at 89. You can check out the ratings of Web sites yourself, by visiting Privacyscore.com and typing in a Web site's address. You can also download a free Firefox add-in or Chrome extension that will give you ratings of sites as you visit them.

The scores are based on two primary criteria -- personal data policies, and tracking data policies, each of which has a maximum of 50 points. The personal data policies cover what the sites do with the data they gather about you, including whether it is shared with other companies, whether the site deletes your data when you terminate your account, whether you're told if another company requests your data, and whether the site has confirmed its privacy policies with a third party. The tracking policies cover whether there are ad networks and other "trackers" on the site that track what you do across multiple web sites.

Microsoft rates a 44 for the tracking policies, and a 35 for the personal data policies. Apple rated a 49 for its tracking policies, and a 40 for its personal data policies. Google, meanwhile, rated a 50 for its tracking policies, and a 35 for its personal data policies.

The Google rating will no doubt surprise most people, notably the 50 for its tracking policies. But that's because Google doesn't use third-party trackers on its sites; instead it uses its own network.

There should also be an asterisk assigned to the Google rating, because of the intricacies of trying to assign a single numerical rating to all of Google's diverse services. Here's what PrivacyChoice says:

Google offers multiple services, which involve varying degrees of privacy risk based on the nature of the data collected. For example, Gmail may involve the use of more sensitive data than Google Reader; and Google's mobile services may involve collection of precise location information that is not collected on typical websites. For these reasons, depending on how you use Google's services, their overall privacyscore may not be comparable to the privacyscores of other websites.

Not quite clear is why the group gives Google sites a single, overall rating, while giving Microsoft sites individual ratings. Microsoft's Live.com rated a 77, Bing rated an 80, and MSN had a 72.

PrivacyChoice is doing the Web and users a service by rating privacy policies, but I'm not sure that it's particularly fair in the way it lumps all of Google's services together, and not Microsoft's. Beyond that, I'm not sure that it makes sense to rate Google so highly merely because it uses its own tracking service rather than a third party's. And the group also doesn't seem to take into account whether companies aggregate data about you.

Still, it's a good first step, and you'd do well to visit the site, and try out the Firefox add-in or Chrome extension.

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