Microsoft is evaluating how data it gathers about people who use Bing and its Edge browser could improve its suite of business applications, including its customer relationship management, marketing, and service software.
It’s part of the expansive plans Microsoft has for its suite of business applications, according to James Phillips, VP in charge of Microsoft’s Business Applications Group. The company doesn’t have concrete plans for what data it will use (or how it will be made available to customers), but Phillips sees an opportunity to set Microsoft apart from other players in the market because of the range of products it operates.
He said one of Microsoft’s key advantages is that it can help businesses understand their customers by tapping into a massive treasure trove of proprietary information it has amassed through products used by millions of people.
“I watch every single Microsoft Edge interaction,” Phillips said in an interview with VentureBeat. “I watch every search, I watch everything that goes through sort of the navigation text box. We watch every search that happens on Bing, which is a lot, as it turns out, and statistically significant. And we’re able to in many ways build profiles that provide us with demographic, psychographic, interest, and intent categorization of these people who you want to sell to, or you want to do a better job of engaging.”
That ability to gather information on customers’ behavior across a wide range of properties doesn’t directly translate to new features right now. Phillips said that Microsoft’s plans in that arena are still “in flight,” and that the company hasn’t determined exactly what information it wants to make available and how.
“We are still sort of dialing in on what level we’re comfortable doing that,” Phillips said. “I mean, the most important thing is that we provide our customers with choice relative to their privacy decisions, and so balancing the commercial opportunity with the commitment to privacy is a non-trivial balancing act that we have to do.”
The company was not available to talk further about how its consumer data collection will impact its business applications. John Doyle, a senior director for product marketing in Microsoft’s Cloud & Enterprise division, declined to comment on the tech titan’s expected use of customer data in a subsequent interview.
But these plans cast a couple Microsoft product decisions from the past several months in a new light. The company recently made Edge available on iOS and Android, which originally seemed like a way for browser users to maintain their state across devices. Earlier this month, Microsoft introduced a new privacy dashboard for Insider builds of Windows 10 that provides people with additional control over what information their computer sends back about what they do.
(To be clear, Phillips didn’t discuss Windows 10’s data collection practices, and the company hasn’t said one way or another whether information collected through its operating system would be used for the new feature.)
Microsoft is far from alone in providing businesses with insights about their consumers based on information gathered from their behavior elsewhere. Google and Facebook have buckets of user information they’ve gathered that business customers can use to target advertisements or to understand who’s accessing their websites and mobile apps. Oracle collects a massive trove of data that it uses to provide customers with a wide variety of similar services.
Each of those companies makes its own decisions about what data they choose to provide to third parties and how that’s made available. Google, for example, uses customers’ Chrome histories to better target advertising — assuming they opt into that collection.
What’s more, this won’t be the first time Microsoft has used its consumer properties to help its business customers. The company continues to promote LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which uses data from the professional social network. And its Bing search engine allows for ad targeting based on a variety of factors, including location, device type, and certain demographics.
One potential wild card is recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, which has drawn the ire of lawmakers and the public alike. It’s unclear whether the fallout from that scandal will have any impact on what information companies like Microsoft choose to collect and share with their customers and partners.
Whatever changes that incident may bring, it’s clear Microsoft wants to expand its role in the business application realm and sees its consumer properties as a tool to help it better compete with other titans in the technology industry. It seems likely that something in this vein will come to pass in the not-too-distant future.