ASA rule on email privacy (not that there is any)…We only read your emails for ‘good’ reasons not like the other lot, who read your emails for any old reasons

Posted: 27 March, 2014 in ASA Advert Censor
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outlook com logoA radio ad, for Microsoft Outlook, began with a character who stated, Ymay ivatepray e-mailway isway onway ofway eirthay usinessbay. The voice-over then stated Pig Latin may be hard to understand, but you probably need it if you use Gmail, because Gmail scans every word of your e-mails to sell ads. But doesn’t. And you can choose to opt out of personalised ads. To stop Gmail from using your e-mails, use Learn more at and keep your e-mails ivatepray .

Two complainants challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that Outlook offered greater privacy than Gmail, because they understood that Outlook also scanned the contents of all e-mails, for purposes other than targeting ads.

Microsoft Corporation stated their belief that offered greater privacy than Gmail because the latter scanned e-mails for the purpose of targeting ads, whereas only undertook protective scanning for viruses and spam. They considered that the scanning of e-mails for ad targeting in the Gmail system was a significant privacy issue, particularly as users could not opt-out, and referred to news articles which they believed reflected concerns of both consumers and regulators.

Microsoft stated that the ad focused on the scanning of e-mails for ad targeting, as this was a key distinguishing feature between and Gmail of which consumers might not be aware. They referred to a survey conducted on their behalf by a third party that stated that 64% of consumers are unaware that some e-mail providers scan e-mail content in order to target ads, and that 83% considered it an invasion of privacy.

Microsoft said that to not undertake protective scanning of e-mails would be irresponsible. They believed that it was expected, accepted and encouraged by both consumers and government regulators, and that it was an issue of great importance within the industry. They explained that this protective scanning was not mentioned in the ad because, unlike scanning to target advertising, scanning for viruses and spam was standard practice of which consumers were likely to be aware. Therefore, they considered that omission of this practice in the ad did not render it misleading. They also highlighted that protective scanning did not involve the collection and retention of consumer data, unlike scanning to target ads. They said that the superiority claim in the ad was limited to scanning for ad targeting, and that the ad made no claims (whether explicit or implied) that did not use any other form of e-mail scanning.

ASA Assessment: Complaints not upheld

We acknowledged that scanned e-mails for viruses and spam messages, and that this was not referred to in the ad. However, we understood that this was standard practice for e-mail providers and considered that listeners were likely to expect this type of scanning to be carried out as a matter of course. We noted that the ad referred explicitly to Gmail scanning e-mail content for the purposes of targeting ads, and that this reference was immediately followed by the statement doesn’t . We considered that listeners were likely to appreciate that this statement was only in relation to scanning for ad targeting, rather than protective scanning, and that the ad did not state or imply that no other forms of scanning were utilised. We noted Microsoft’s belief that the two types of scanning were different, as targeting required the collation and retention of data whereas protective scanning did not, and considered that the use of personal data was likely to be a privacy concern for some consumers. Because the ad made clear that the privacy claims were in relation to ad targeting, which does not carry out, we therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading.


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