The Daily Beast reports that Facebook has been exposed in a scheme that sought to plant harmful stories about Google in the press, with the help of a public relations firm.
According to the article, Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller, a highly respected PR firm, to pitch stories to newspapers with an anti-Google angle and urged them to investigate allegations that Google was invading people’s privacy.
The PR firm went so far as to even offering to help a high-profile blogger write an op-ed bashing Google, promising it would place the op-ed in such outlets as The Huffington Post and The Washington Post. However, the blogger rejected the offer and posted the email exchange on the Internet, coinciding with a story from USA Today that accused the firm of a smear campaign against Google on behalf of an unnamed client. While people pointed fingers at Microsoft and Apple, The Daily Beast discovered it was Facebook.
On May 11, a spokesperson for Facebook confirmed that the social networking site had hired the PR firm for two reasons. One, because it believes Google is doing certain things within social networking that raise concerns about privacy; and two, because Facebook does not appreciate Google’s attempts to integrate data from Facebook within its own social networking service, Social Circle. In a pitch to journalists, Burson-Marsteller claimed that Social Circle was “designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users-in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google’s] agreement with the FTC.” What may be the heart of the matter is that much of the information that appears in Social Circle is content that is actually pulled from Facebook, which Facebook claims is a violation of their terms of service when Facebook member data is used in that manner by Google.
This incident highlights the growing rivalry between Facebook and Google, as the two companies are essentially vying to see who will be able to have the biggest share of online advertising. Facebook uses member data to sell targeting advertising, making the site one of Google’s largest rivals. Last month, it was reported that Google’s CEO sent a memo to employees saying social networking was Google’s top priority, so much so that 25 percent of every employee’s bonus for the year will be based upon how well Google does in the realm of social networking.