Facebook has confessed to secretly hiring a PR firm for the purpose of spreading anti-Google stories in what’s been called a “clumsy smear” campaign.
Earlier this week top public relations firm Burson-Marseller, working for an unnamed client, was exposed attempting to pressure media into writing Google-bashing stories—it turns out that client was Facebook. A spokesperson for the social network giant has since confirmed that Facebook did indeed hire Burson-Marseller to do their dirty work-albeit not in those words, “We are concerned that Google may be improperly using data they have scraped about Facebook users.”
Burson’s clandestine campaign came to a screeching halt when they offered to help blogger Chris Soghoian write an anti-Google op-ed piece about Social Circle—one of Google’s services which allows users to access information through a network of friends. Soghoian was more concerned with Burson’s motives than Google’s services and when Burson refused to reveal who they were working for he blew the whistle—publishing all of the e-mails he had exchanged with the firm.
“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.” -Burson
With Burson scrambling to explain their blunder, “This was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies”, one question still remained—who was it that they were working for? Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast had the answer and after being confronted with “evidence” a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that they had hired Burson. It seems Facebook is not too happy that Google’s Social Circle service may offer content pulled from Facebook.
“We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.” -Facebook
Considering Facebook’s Hollywood-worthy business tactics this seems par for the course, even so it’s a PR nightmare for both themselves and Burson-Marseller. Apart from the tap dancing these guilty companies will be doing, this ham-handed attack is a wakeup call for Google—the gloves are off. At least Facebook cares about our their interests and the privacy of our their data outside of Facebook.
[For an absolutely hilarious and viciously incisive account of this whole tawdry affair, check out MG Siegler's reaction on TechCrunch - Ed.]
[via The Daily Beast]