Facebook Hired PR Firm To Run ‘Smear’ Campaign Against Google

According to Daily Beast report, social-networking giant hired leading PR firm Burson-Marsteller to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers.

Last night, a spokesman for the social network confirmed to the Daily Beast that Facebook paid a top PR firm to spread anti-Google stories across the media and to encourage various outlets to examine allegations that the Mountain View company was violating user privacy. Photo: Edencc/Flickr

The battle between Facebook and Google intensified this week when The Daily Beast and USA Today revealed that Facebook hired a PR firm Burson-Marsteller, a PR company owned by WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell’s group, to go after the search giant.

Executives from Burson-Marsteller approached a well known blogger, Christopher Soghoian, who blogs about security, urging him to investigate Google’s privacy policy, and in exchange they would help him get the piece published on influential sites such as The Huffington Post, Politico and The Washington Post.

Burson-Marsteller even offered to help the blogger write the piece telling Soghoian: “The American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloguing and broadcasting every minute of every day—without their permission.”

But Soghoian refused, saying the company was making a mountain out of a molehill and then posted the emails online showing what the company had been trying to do. USA Today then ran with the piece and accused Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google for an unknown client.

Dan Lyons, a writer for The Daily Beast, found evidence to prove it was Facebook who hired Burson-Marsteller and Facebook later admitted to Mr. Lyons that it had done so.

When pressed, Facebook confirmed the hire to the Daily Beast, citing concerns it had with the way Google was using its data. It was also reportedly annoyed that Google was boosting its own social-networking services with information from Facebook.

“In other words, just as Google built Google News by taking content created by hundreds of newspapers and repackaging it, so now Google aims to build a social-networking business by using that rich user data that Facebook has gathered,” Dan Lyons wrote for The Daily Beast.

“Like a Cold War spy case made public, the PR fiasco reveals—and ratchets up—the growing rivalry between Google and Facebook. Google, the search giant, views Facebook as a threat, and has been determined to fight back by launching a social-networking system of its own.So far, however, Google has not had much luck, but Facebook nonetheless felt it necessary to return fire—clandestinely.”

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the story and declined to comment further, while Google declined to comment. In a statement, Burson-Marsteller confirmed that it accepted the Facebook assignment, but said it probably should have declined.

“The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media,” the firm said.

“Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.”

“Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle,” it concluded.

When Larry Page took the reins as Google’s CEO last month, he sent a memo to employees that said a quarter of their 2011 bonuses would be tied to Google’s performance in the social realm. Google has repeatedly denied that it will launch a formal social network, but executives said it will incorporate social features into existing products.

In March, for example, Google introduced “+1,” which lets users recommend certain Web sites with the click of a button, much like you might “like” something on Facebook. That came about a month after Google enhanced its social search algorithm to more frequently include results from social networks.

Google and Facebook’s rivalry is one of the biggest between any two major technology companies at the moment. Both are competing for advertising pounds and eyeballs online. With Facebook accounting for an increasing amount of time spent by people on the web, Google is prioritising its social strategy.

The search giant has yet to create a significant social network alternative to Facebook, but newly installed chief executive and Google co-founder, Larry Page is supposedly working on a network called Google Circles. It had been expected to launch this week at Google’s developer conference, however no mention was made. [via PC Mag, The Telegraph (UK) and Fox News]

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