Microsoft Puts Google in Sights with Student Privacy Law

Microsoft has thrown its might behind a new privacy bill that would limit what companies can do with student data stored in the cloud, thus taking a direct short at Google's education cloud services. In a statement of support for the measure, Mike Houlihan, spokesman for the company, said that the government needs to step in to make sure that data collected from students via cloud technology can not be turned around and used for commercial purposes.

"We believe that student data should not be used for commercial purposes; that cloud-service providers should be transparent in how they use student data; and that service providers should obtain clear consent for the way they use data," said Mike Houlihan, a Microsoft spokesman. "We expect that students, parents and educators will judge any proposed legislation on its merits."

So far the measure has made it onto the docket of the Massachusetts Legislature, with Microsoft being upfront both with its contribution and the fact that it hopes the bill will mainly effect Google, one of its chief competitors in the education space. Although the product in question – Apps for Education – doesn't display ads by default, according to Microsoft that is not good enough. The collection of data still continues on the backend, and it is a practice they say needs to stop.

Microsoft made sure to add that its Web-based email for education doesn't have any ads in its settings. Microsoft doesn't charge for email, calendars or contacts, but schools need to pay for Office and Microsoft's new cloud-based service, Office 365 Education.

Some children's privacy advocates are a little worried that Microsoft's efforts are more focused on pushing Google out of the education space rather than the privacy of children.

"We'll still look at the legislation on its merits, but the origins of the bill are troubling," said Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Microsoft has long had Google in its sights, although Google is likely hoping that this attempt will be as successful at unseating the Palo Alto, California company as Microsoft previous efforts were. Two years ago, the Redmond behemoth petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to investigate what it perceived as Google's monopoly on web search. The complaint alleged that Google was using its dominance to unfairly push out the competition. The complaint was resolved this January with no lawsuits filed.

Just last month, Microsoft launched a campaign against Google's Gmail called "Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail." It was an effort to bring users to Outlook instead through a series of television commercials and Internet ads. Earlier this week, Microsoft pulled the plug on the campaign saying that the catchphrase will stick around, but the ads will die off.

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