Today, I attended a lunch at the Berkman Center with Microsoft’s Ira Rubinstein. Ira talked about privacy and how it is built into the Microsoft development model. He mentioned Microsoft’s new layered approach to privacy policies, where a simple front page gives you the highlights, and you can drill down on any point. A bit like the Creative Commons deeds, without the nice icons (maybe there should be privacy concept icons?)
Ira carefully went through a number of scenarios regarding the handling of personally identifiable information in Microsoft applications. As I sat there listening, I wondered “why is he telling us all of this in meticulous detail?” Then it hit me: in a world where Google stores your data and the privacy implications are murky at best, Microsoft has a fascinating competitive advantage: with their desktop apps and their general desktop platform control, they can provide services with clearer, more well thought-out privacy policies, and, interestingly, far more minimalist data retention. Surely, they can’t quite compete with free software, but free software is only part of the picture: who is going to run the online services?
This has always been Google’s weakness, and Microsoft is about to exploit it. A few days ago, I wondered who would have the incentive to deploy privacy? It seems maybe Microsoft will, and may use it as a competitive advantage. Google will have to clarify their privacy strategy soon.