Facebook Caught Hiring PR Firm To Smear And Attack Google

from the oops dept

There was some buzz over the past few days over reports of PR giant Burson-Marsteller pushing a bunch of journalists on a story slamming Google over privacy issues related to its Social Circles offering. In what appeared to be a really, really pisspoor job of PRing, two high-profile, but relatively new, Burson staffers tried to create a bogus campaign against Google over this. The plan started to unravel when privacy expert Chris Soghoian, who we’ve mentioned many times in the past, was asked to put his name on an op-ed piece that Burson would “help” write, and then place in a major publication. Rather than accept the deal, Soghoian, instead, posted the email exchange.

Following that, USA Today picked up on the story, building on what Soghoian released, and noting that the same folks at Burson had been pushing USA Today to do a story on the same issue, but in checking out the details, the reporters noticed that what Burson was spreading wasn’t even accurate:

In a May 3 e-mail to former FTC researcher and blogger Christopher Soghoian, Burson’s Mercurio offered to ghost write an op-ed column to that effect for Soghoian. Mercurio even offered in a widely circulated e-mail to help Soghoian get it published in The Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call and The Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, Goldman connected with USA TODAY and outlined a news story critical of Social Circle.

However, Soghoian derailed Burson’s efforts by posting the full e-mail text of Mercurio’s pitch — along with his rejection — on the Internet. After Goldman’s pitch proved largely untrue, he subsequently declined USA TODAY’s requests for comment.

Of course, that left a big question. Who had hired Burson to do this? Most of the theories focused on Microsoft. This seemed like the sort of thing it might do. Some people, apparently, thought it might be Apple, recognizing how much of a rival Google has become. However, the surprise news is that it was Facebook, which ‘fessed up to Dan Lyons at the Daily Beast, after being confronted.

Confronted with evidence, a Facebook spokesman last night confirmed that Facebook hired Burson, citing 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.

Now, these kinds of hit pieces are not really that uncommon. PR people place stuff like this all the time. But it’s a bit rarer in Silicon Valley, where that kind of thing is considered really dirty pool. It’s also a pretty unfortunate statement about Facebook and the way it views the world. Playing dirty tricks on competitors isn’t particularly productive, and just makes you wonder if it means that Facebook realizes it can’t compete with Google, so it needs to come up with bogus attacks.

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Companies: burson marsteller, facebook, google

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Comments on “Facebook Caught Hiring PR Firm To Smear And Attack Google”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Google can kill Facebook

It has all the peaces already. Youtube for video, Picasa for pictures, Google Music for music (if they can get the RIAA to be reasonable). Integrate all that in a user friendly (and secure) environment and it could smoke Facebook. Add on top of that all the other stuff they do and it actually becomes scary.

The Facebook guy is smart, smarter then me. If I can figure it out, he did long before.

MrWilson says:

Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain all the Google hate I’ve seen over the last few years. Unless I talk to a lot of astroturfers, it seems like there are a lot of people on the internet who are completely poisoned towards using Google services despite their low (usually free) costs and the sheer utility and ubiquity of their offerings. They seem to be the least possibly evil company around, yet I’ve seen accusations that they’re worse than Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple despite a lack of evidence.

Not to mention that it seems like every complaint someone mentions is easily solved. If you want privacy, you don’t have to offer your information. If you don’t like their ads, block them. If you don’t want to be tracked, use proxies or TOR.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Poisoned Kool-Aid

I hate it when people rag on Google. They are a revolutionary company. I think people just take Google Maps, Google Streetview, Google Images, Google Translate, Google Books, Google Sketchup, Google Docs, Android, etc. for granted. I have never, in my life, had access to so many useful programs for free. Monopolistic companies like Microsoft and Apple are the problem. Google is the solution. Google just has to make game consoles and the revolution is complete.

God, I sound like such a screaming fanboy, its embarrassing.

Raphael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not to mention that it seems like every complaint someone mentions is easily solved. If you want privacy, you don’t have to offer your information. If you don’t like their ads, block them. If you don’t want to be tracked, use proxies or TOR.

That’s the part I struggle with in forming an opinion. I agree, essentially, that they’re the least evil, and I believe that no one at Google WANTS to be evil or intends to do evil.

I just think some things, by their nature, are too dangerous to have lying around. For me, the collection of data Google maintains is one of those things. There’s just no way to know what abuses it can or can’t enable, and it’s impossible to oversee the use of that collection of data in any meaningful way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ok, let’s see here:

1- Facebook is routinely hacked or has some really bad vulnerability exposed that allows attackers to see people’s private parts (so to speak);
2- Facebook hands people’s private data to whoever pays them the most (remember, you private parts, so to speak, are only private for total strangers, not mister insurance/car/jock itch powder salesman);
3- Facebook play dirty, as illustrated in TFA.

And now they want to chastise Google because of their privacy policies? Give me a break…

sam sin says:

‘First, because it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns’.

before trying to condemn another, i think Facebook needs to do some serious research into all the privacy issues it has had/does have. correcting them and protecting its own users should be its first priority, not trying to slag off any other site etc for perhaps doing what it isn’t.

Paul L (profile) says:

Some key points

The smear campaign left out a few important points. You need to CHOOSE to have a Public Profile with Google and it provides information that you otherwise share with others! This stuff can’t activate it all on its own.

It’s like setting up your Facebook account to share your info with friends, then adding a new wall post and getting upset that it got shared with friends. If you set up a public profile in Google or INTENTIONALLY went out of your way to connect your Google account to social media networks (for the purpose of sharing, which is made quite clear) then this service does exactly what you’d expect it to.

Personally. I think it’s pretty neat. I will most likely use it but create an alternative Google account to keep my personal and professional contacts separated.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Dan "SCO code in Linux" Lyons?

I am not willing/able to trust Dan Lyons here. He’s turned out so many articles in the past which were poorly fact checked, trollish, unpaid (or possibly paid) anti-linux articles in the SCO fiasco which were easily debunked later, that it is hard to tell here if what he is saying is the truth, or just another example of the same process he is accusing Facebook of employing. How do we know he hasn’t been paid to write this article?

Unless there is some corroborating evidence or a press-release from Google/Facebook, or some other reporter that steps forward and confirms the report, I will not give any credence to what Mr. Lyons has published. He is, after all, the self appointed “Fake Steve Jobs” so it isn’t like he doesn’t have a history of being less than truthful to earn page-hits and advertising dollars.

I’d wait for someone else to corroborate this before jumping on the Facebook did it bandwagon. (Not that I’d put it past Facebook to do something like this.)

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Unintended consequences?

I can’t believe that someone at Facebook couldn’t see some pretty obvious unintended consequences over this, even if it worked the way they wanted it to.

Creating any scare about privacy for Google is going to be just as big an issue for Facebook, if not bigger. Really, what type of data does Google have that Facebook doesn’t have? And I can think of quite a bit more personal and private info that the average user has put into Facebook that they wouldn’t have shared (knowingly or not) to Google.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook are spammers...

…and rule #1 of the Rules of Spam is: “Spammers lie”. So it’s hardly surprising to observe this. No doubt it’s not the first such incident; no doubt it’s not the last.

And while I’m not entirely sanguine about everything Google does — they’ve made plenty of mistakes — Facebook are filth.

Sean Dougherty (profile) says:

PR in the News

I blogged this two days ago because it ranks a new peak in journalists treating the practice of PR as newsworthy, which they never did until recently.

PR has become a normal part of corporate operations like finance or HR and we need to get used to being treated that way by the press. Yes, they will publish your pitches and e-mails, maybe even your voicemails. Make them transparent.

lancehassan (profile) says:


Where have y’all been? You’ve got it all backwards. Those aren’t privacy concerns at Facebook those are social networking enhancing features….you see it every time the Facebook updates the site and resets your security settings. “We’ve made these changes to improve the social networking experience”. Really, it’s the world according to Mark…too bad they forced the Zuckerberg action figure off the market. that would have been an improvement to the social experience.

hmm (profile) says:

if a squirrel

If a dancing squirrel suddenly appeared on a page and demanded your name, date of birth and favorite brand of butter you’d hit close faster than I can blink……

Somehow people do this every single day on Facebook and don’t care….I wonder if one day if people logged in and facebook demanded their “intimate” measurements, (+ photos) how many people would just blank-facedly do it?

Weird….facebook is nothing but a huge database of personal info thats sold to the highest bidder (and with access tokens, they even allow other people to access your account directly and muck about with stuff) and people don’t seem to care…..

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