In an embarrassing leak, Facebook has been shamed for hiring top public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to spread anti-Google stories around the internet. Burson encouraged several influential bloggers to comment on Google’s privacy invasion, and even offered to place these articles in prominent newspapers such as The Washington Post and Politico.
Naturally, this backfired in a major way when a blogger turned down the offer to smear Google, and posted the emails from Burson online. This fight was escalated when USA Today posted a story accusing the PR firm of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google for an “unnamed client. ” Originally this unnamed client was figured to be either Microsoft or Apple, but The Daily Beast discovered that it was actually Facebook behind the plot.
What are the reasons? Well according to a Facebook spokesperson, the social network hired the firm firstly because it believes Google is doing things in social networking that “raise privacy concerns,” and secondly because “Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.”
Burson-Marsteller were pushing Social Circle, a Google tool that lets Gmail users view information about friends and friends of friends, as the culprit for the so-called privacy concerns. They claimed the service 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. ”
Blogger Chris Soghoian, who was approached to write an anti-Google op-ed, says Social Circle wasn’t nearly as dangerous as Burson made it out to be. It is more likely, as mentioned by the Facebook spokesperson, that Facebook was annoyed about Google’s use of Facebook data in the service.
This is a very embarrassing moment for Facebook, as they are struggling to keep the world’s largest search engine at bay while fueling a rivalry that grows fiercer with every step. Google sees Facebook’s 600 million user base as a threat and is determined to etch away at this chunk of users with its own (yet to launch or be announced) social network. Facebook doesn’t like this idea and has to resort to dirty tactics to quietly attack the opposition.
As this smear campaign has been busted, not only has Facebook been shamed but also the PR firm they hired, which is a highly respected global company used by many high-profile companies including HP, Apple and Intel. While Burson will likely recover, it doesn’t appear as though the Google-Facebook rivalry will be taking a rest any time soon.