I don't know about you, but this news that Facebook hired a PR firm to smear Google's record on privacy strikes me as absolutely stunning and hilarious.
In case you haven't heard, Facebook was exposed for hiring Burson-Marsteller, a top public relations firm, to pitch negative Google stories to various publications. The particular product being smeared was a feature called Social Circle.
According to Google, Social Circle is a "network of connections Google uses to identify relevant social search results" that is based on direct connections from Google chat and contacts; direct connections from Google Profiles or Connected accounts; and secondary connections (connections of your connections).
After a blogger who was pitched by Burson-Marsteller published his email exchange with the PR firm, USA Today -- which, too, was pitched -- broke the story that Burson was hired by an "unnamed client" to approach bloggers with (and help them write!) these stories. Thereafter, The Daily Beast discovered evidence suggesting it was Facebook, and the company confirmed that it was true.
From The Daily Beast:
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.
This is so hysterically funny that I can barely see well enough through my laughter tears to write this blog. But I'll forge ahead, nonetheless.
How ridiculous on so many levels: First of all, it is mortifying that a top PR firm would take this on, and this will certainly tarnish Burson-Marsteller's name.
But Facebook, are you joking?
Let's just say right now that Facebook should give up the dream that anyone is going to believe the nonsense fed to The Daily Beast about Facebook being concerned that Google is committing shady practices that violate privacy. Guess who else is known for shady practices that violate privacy: Uh, you guys, over there, at Facebook!
Further, as Dan Lyons points out on The Daily Beast, "What really seems to be angering Facebook is that some of the stuff that pops up under 'secondary connections' in Google's Social Circle is content pulled from Facebook."
Well, boo hoo. Sure, if Google is violating Facebook's terms of service, Facebook should do something about this. But clearly the way not to fix this is to start a smear campaign.
To be clear, I'm far from saying that Google's done nothing wrong. Google and Facebook are equally guilty of taking advantage of their users by surprising them with new features that they don't want and didn't ask for, making small "tweaks" that always manage to open users up to having their privacy violated, and so on.
But for Facebook to think it was going to sneak around and have writers do their dirty work, that it was going to fund a campaign to have Google successfully smeared for its privacy violations? How hypocritical. And stupid.
Stupid because it makes Facebook look simply awful, yes. But also stupid because the inevitable story would have eventually surfaced that Google's new service shows it hasn't learned its lesson. Having learned something about Social Circle, I have to say it sounds like it could be problematic.
But now the focus is not on the flaws with Google's new feature. Instead, it's on Facebook, which has just been exposed as hypocritical and dishonest, and willing to resort to very questionable business practices to get what it wants.
— Nicole Ferraro , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution