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.