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Facebook allegedly hired a PR firm to smear Google

Plot backfired for social networking giant
Thu May 12 2011, 12:55

SOCIAL NOTWORKING GIANT Facebook allegedy hired a PR firm to launch a smear campaign against Google, the details of which were revealed when one of the PR guys spoke to the wrong person.

One of the world's top PR agencies, Burson-Marsteller, was apparently hired by Facebook to plant anti-Google stories in newspapers and blogs, particularly focused on bashing Google's Social Circle feature in Gmail over supposed privacy concerns.

The plot was discovered by Christopher Soghoian, a security and privacy researcher and blogger. John Mercurio from Burson-Marsteller emailed him to ask if he would run a story on Google's privacy issues, presenting an indepth account of what Google was doing wrong. Soghoian cottoned onto the spin and asked who was paying Burson-Marsteller to pitch these stories, but Mercurio said that he could not reveal his client at the time.

Soghoian decided to publish the email exchange online. He said Social Circle was safe and Mercurio was exaggerating the privacy concerns.

Burson-Martseller also tried to get some other top news websites to cover its biased stories, including USA Today, The Washington Post, Politico and The Huffington Post. Like Soghoian, USA Today decided not to run the story but instead wrote about how it was approached by the PR firm on behalf of an "unnamed client".

Initially it was suspected that Apple or Microsoft might have been behind the PR attacks, but The Daily Beast found evidence that Facebook was the culprit. It said that it contacted a Facebook spokesperson who admitted that Facebook hired Burson-Martseller to smear Google.

The reasons given by the spokesperson for the anti-Google propaganda were that Facebook believed Google was doing some things with its social networking attempts that raised privacy concerns and, more tellingly, that Facebook was not happy about Google using Facebook data in its social networking service.

Google has been attempting to get in on the social networking game for some time now, launching a myriad of products that so far have failed to gain any real traction. Buzz failed to create a buzz, +1 is still in an experimental phase, and Social Circle is relatively unheard of. Despite its lack of success in this area, many still believe that Google is a valid threat to Facebook and clearly Facebook agrees.

The problem for Facebook is that its plan completely backfired. Not only have most news outlets failed to run with its carefully crafted stories bashing Google, it has resulted in bad press for Facebook instead. Google undoubtedly has had its privacy issues, such as the Streetview fiasco and collecting location data, but this revelation raises concerns about how trustworthy Facebook is and to what extent it will go to cut out the competition.

Ollie Rickman, communications manager at Google UK, tweeted: "If this is true, I'm really disappointed in FB, not least because a lot of their comms team is ex-Google."

Google refused to comment on the story. Facebook refused to confirm the reports to The INQUIRER, but referred us back to The Daily Beast's confirmation of Facebook's actions. µ


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