Facebook Gets Busted for Smearing Google

The social networking site has admitted to hiring a PR firm to land a dirty attack on the search giant. Facebook and privacy issues, what else is new? In a most recent clash between two internet titans, Facebook is on the receiving end of media scrutiny after it initiated a smear campaign against Google.

The foundations of the attack began after Google’s release of its new Social Circle, a service that allows users of Gmail to access public secondary information about their friends (the service is opt-in only). While this may seem intrusive to some, keep in mind that Facebook does this all the time; and it seems that Google was accessing some of that public information.

Instead of voicing their concerns however, Facebook hired a PR firm called Burson-Marsteller, best known for their failed presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton in 2008, to launch an attack campaign against Google’s new Social Circle. Burson-Marsteller then proceed to contact every media outlet it knew and fed them various anti-Social Circle messages such as:

“[Social Circle is] 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 plot only started to unravel after tech blogger, Chris Soghoian, was contacted by the PR firm and felt that something was suspicious. After a large amount of digging and failing to get a definitive answer from Burson-Marsteller, Mr. Soghoian decided to publish his email exchanges online. The story then broke into the mass media when USA Today published their investigative findings after also becoming suspicious of the story when it was pitched to them as well. As Burson-Marsteller was still tight-lipped about why they were doing this, USA Today simply published the article saying that the firm was launching a whisper campaign against Google.

Several companies were suspected of initiating the attack, from Microsoft to Apple, both which compete with Google on many fronts. However, the culprit was eventually discovered by The Daily Beast to be none other than Facebook. After confronting them, Facebook openly admitted hiring Burson-Marstellar and gave The Daily Beast two reasons:

First, because it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, because Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.

Perhaps it was to be expected from a social-networking site of this size to get angsty about Google’s intrusion, after all, Facebook’s information system is an extremely valuable asset. However, getting angry at Google over information that has already been made public is quite silly, especially since Facebook was probably the one that made it public in the first place.

Yet, instead of dealing with it using normal competitive means, or simply talking about it, Facebook chooses to launch a smear campaign that lies about its competitor’s new service and brings in bad PR for both companies. That isn’t innovative. It isn’t a healthy competitive program either. It’s just plain childish.

The Daily Beast