Facebook Admits It Hired PR Firm to Smear Google

The social networking site had Burson plant negative stories

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On Tuesday, USA Today reported that two reps for PR firm Burson-Marsteller were attempting to plant negative stories about Google, claiming that its Social Circle feature violates privacy and FTC rules. Burson’s client was a mystery, although some suspected Apple or Microsoft of the underhanded tactics. But The Daily Beast has just discovered that the company was, in fact, Facebook.

A Facebook spokesman, when confronted with evidence, confirmed to The Daily Beast that his company had secretly hired Burson. He cited two reasons: first, because Facebook believed that some of Google’s social networking-related actions raise concerns about privacy, and second, because Facebook was peeved that Google was using Facebook data for its social networking service. Social Circle pulls information from Facebook to suggest “secondary connections” to its users, which Facebook claims is a direct violation of its own terms of service: “We are concerned that Google may be improperly using data they have scraped about Facebook users,” said the spokesman.

At first, Burson denied that Facebook was a client, but after learning that Facebook had admitted to their relationship, the PR firm confirmed it. The incident is embarrassing both for Facebook, which has been working to set itself up as “trustworthy,” and for Burson, a high-end firm that has represented important clients like the Clintons, says The Daily Beast.

When contacted, a Google spokeswoman told The Daily Beast that Facebook’s allegation was a new one and that the company needed time to consider a response.

@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.