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Bamboozled by Scroogled

IF you were Pepsi, would you sell merchandise—T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and caps—attacking Coke? Would Sony belittle Samsung in a T-shirt? Would McDonald’s denigrate Jollibee on a mug? Would Globe diss Smart on a cap? Bizarre, right?

Tell that to Microsoft.

Last month, the software giant that wants to become a devices and services company began doing just that—selling T-shirts, hoodies, caps and mugs under the “Scroogled” logo on its dedicated website (www.scroogled.com).

Scroogled is a Microsoft campaign launched a year ago ostensibly to warn users about the dangers of entrusting their data to Google, which it says merely wants to make money off your personal data. A mug that no longer seems to be on sale reads “Keep calm while we steal your data” underneath the Google Chrome logo. A T-shirt reads “Step into our web” above a menacing spider with the Chrome logo emblazoned on the lower half of its body. Another T-shirt has the Chrome logo wearing a fedora and a trench coat, looking like a spy, with the words “I’m watching you.”

In its latest Scroogled video attack, Microsoft takes aim at Chromebooks, which are low-cost, lightweight notebooks that run Google Chrome OS, a Linux-based operating system that was designed primarily to work with Web applications.

In the scripted commercial, Rick Harrison from the reality TV show Pawn Stars, tells a woman who wants to pawn her mom’s Chromebook to buy a ticket to Hollywood that he won’t take it off her hands because without the Internet, “it’s pretty much a brick.”

“You see this thingy?” he points at the Chrome logo as the girl looks on, clueless. “This means it’s not a real laptop. It doesn’t have Windows or Office. Without Wi-Fi, it doesn’t do much at all, and when you are online, Google tracks what you do so they can sell ads. (Girl looks incredulous.) That’s how you get scroogled!”

“Scroogled? What’s scroogled?” Rick’s old dad asks.

“Google is always trying to make money off your personal information. Chromebook hardware (winces) makes it even easier for them,” Rick explains.

“Not going to Hollywood, am I?” clueless girl asks.

“Not with a Google Chromebook,” Rick’s dad pipes in. “You might get to Reno.”

Microsoft’s decision to go after the Chromebook is a little puzzling, because the product is clearly not aimed at the same users who would buy a full-fledged Windows laptop.

Chromebooks are pitched at people who are constantly online and who use social media and Web-based applications and little else. These are folks who precisely do not want or need Windows or Office on their laptops.

Contrary to the portrayal in Microsoft’s pawn shop commercial, most people who buy Chromebooks aren’t clueless or stupid, either. Most of them know what they are buying.

On Amazon.com, the number-one and number-two best-selling notebooks are Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer. The reviews, posted by verified, actual buyers (not an actress in a pawnshop), are generally positive—and nobody complains that they can’t run Windows on their machines.

Microsoft’s pawn shop commercial makes a leap from a reasonable claim (that you can’t do much on a Chromebook when you’re not online) to an unsupported assertion (the hardware makes it easier for Google to spy on us).

The commercial also overlooks another option for Chromebook users—install a full Linux system like Ubuntu so you can use offline applications as well.

Through the law of unintended consequences, Microsoft’s latest Scroogled ad does three things well:

It actually lets more people know that there are Chromebooks in the market.

It has completely damaged the credibility of Pawn Stars mainstay Rick Harris, who looks obnoxious when he explains to the camera what a Chromebook is in between derisive chortles.

This was a sellout, if ever we saw one.

It leaves the impression that Microsoft is worried about losing ground to Google and Chromebooks.

All this doesn’t mean there are no legitimate concerns when it comes to privacy when you’re using Google services. To many of us, that’s the price of admission. We agree to let them see what we do and pitch ads at us in exchange for a free and efficient search engine or e-mail service.

The way some things are done could be improved—but I don’t need Microsoft, with its ill-disguised motives, to tell me about it. Chin Wong

Column archives and blog at: http://www.chinwong.com

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