In a series of revisions to its services agreement, Microsoft says it will not scan the contents of its users’ files nor will it monitor their communications in order to target advertising based on perceived customer interests.

The move is a dramatic one when contrasted with many of the Redmond, Wash., company’s primary competitors, for whom targeted advertisements represent a significant source of revenue.

“We are now explicitly stating what we’ve said in past, that we don’t use people’s documents, photos or other personal files or what they say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail to target advertising to them,” explained Ryan Gavin, general manager of search, cloud, and content at Microsoft.

While this addition to Microsoft’s privacy policy will be widely viewed as a laudable, it was not made in a vacuum.

While this addition to Microsoft’s privacy policy will be widely viewed as a laudable, it was not made in a vacuum. Many tech giants have made similar announcements about policy changes and feature additions designed to bolster customer privacy – at least on the surface.

In order to combat surveillance and increase communications integrity, Google has developed a tool that will automatically encrypt all data leaving its Chrome browser. That tool is part of a response to data Google published earlier this month, which revealed that other communication service providers are doing a poor job of maintaining Gmail data encryption in transit after it passes out of Google’s control. Google also announced last month it will stop targeting advertisements towards users of its Apps for Education service. The same courtesy is not being extended to any other Google users.

Facebook just yesterday announced they will shift from an advertising system based on user ‘likes’ on the social network itself to one more akin Google. This means Facebook will track users’ Web browsing behavior and advertise based on perceived interests. In what certainly seems like an attempt to make this tracking more palatable, Facebook is introducing a feature that will let users see why they are being targeted by a certain ad and give those users the power to edit the information their tailored ads are based upon.

Apple too made a bit of a splash at the World Wide Developers Conference a few weeks back, announcing that iOS 8 devices would deploy MAC address randomization. This move will make it increasingly difficult for retailers to map customer movement and track other behaviors that are exposed by static MAC addresses when a user connects to a wireless router. Critics have pointed out that MAC address randomization may be Apple’s way of quietly giving advantage to its own indoor mapping tool, iBeacon.

Microsoft’s revisions also appear designed to simplify aspects of the company’s terms of use. Specifically, Microsoft has combined what were previously two separate documents: its code of conduct and its anti-spam policy.

“We’ve condensed separate Code of Conduct and Anti-Spam documents into a single list of activities that can result in a customer’s account being closed, and added language about parents’ responsibility for children using Microsoft account and services,” Gavin wrote in a blog entry.

The changes announced by Microsoft will go into effect on July 31.

Categories: Microsoft, Privacy