Caughtin the Act: Facebook hires PR firm to run smear campaign against Google

Thu, May 12, 2011


Subversion, my friends. This is what Facebook sneakily tried to do to Google in an effort to highlight the latter’s mischievous efforts regarding user privacy.

Earlier this week, the PR firm Burson-Marsteller contacted blogger Chris Soghoian and offered to pay him to write an anti-Google article in a mainstream and widely read online publication. The offer came with guidelines meant to influence Soghoian’s point of view along with key talking points the PR firm wanted Soghoian to harp on.

Regarding Google’s Social Circle for example, the PR firm had particularly strong words. Dan Lyons, who first broke the story for Newsweek, writes:

At issue in this latest skirmish is a Google tool called Social Circle, which lets people with Gmail accounts see information not only about their friends but also about the friends of their friends, which Google calls “secondary connections.” Burson, in its pitch to journalists, claimed Social Circle was “designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users—in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google’s] agreement with the FTC.”

“The American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloging and broadcasting every minute of every day-without their permission,” the PR firm’s pitch also said.

When Soghoian inquired about which company was behind the offer, the PR firm said they weren’t at liberty to disclose. Was it Microsoft? Apple perhaps?

Alas, it turns out it was Facebook.

Yep, Facebook was involved in an embarrassing smear campaign against Google in a move that’s seems more fitting for a covert spy agency than a tech firm.

Upon being confronted by Lyons with proof that they hired Burson-Marsteller, a Facebook spokesman copped to their involvement but rationalized the company’s actions claiming that it sincerely believes Google is violating consumer trust and privacy and, moreover, claiming that the search giant is misappropriating data scraped from Facebook user pages.

Google has yet to comment on the “scandal” but hopefully we’ll get a typically sarcastic or poignant Google response soon.

Interestingly, the battle between Google and Facebook only seems to be intensifying. The two companies have butted head for some time over the harvesting of each other’s data, and more than that, there is a tinge of resentment over at Google over the fact that a significant number of former Googlers have now taken up residence over at Facebook.

Of course, one could easily point the finger at Google over reports that it had a mole working on the inside at Twitter that resulted in the search giant making huge offers to key employees who were apparently fielding attractive job offers from Twitter.

It’s like a nerd version of the Cold War over in Silicon Valley these days.



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