Facebook Smear Campaign Against Google Backfires

A true-to-life drama better than anything Aaron Sorkin could pen for Hollywood.

Dan Lyon’s The Daily Beast reported today that Facebook hired “Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy.”

Burson offered to help Chris Soghoian, a prominent blogger, write a Google-bashing op-ed. Then, Burson backed up the proposal with a promise to place the blog in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico and The Huffington Post.

Facebook’s proposed smear campaign was fabricated from a Google tool called Social Circle. The tool allows people with Gmail accounts see information about their friends and about the friends of their friends. Google calls it “secondary connections.”

Burson’s wanted to slant the claim 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.”

The Daily Beast also reported that Burson was trying foist off on the media the idea that “The American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloging and broadcasting every minute of every day—without their permission.”

But, the scheme backfired when the blogger turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. My hat goes off to Chris Soghoian for turning down Burson’s offer and exposing their smear campaign.

The smear campaign spiraled over the USA Today where the publication reported that two PR agents from Burson “had been pushing reporters at USA Today and other outlets to write stories and editorials claiming Google was violating people’s privacy with Social Circle.”

The Daily Best confronted Facebook with evidence in which “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.“

“A smear campaign is an intentional, premeditated effort to undermine an individual’s or group’s reputation, credibility, and character. “Mud Slinging,” like negative campaigning, most often targets government officials, politicians, political candidates, and other public figures. However, private persons or groups may also become targets of smear campaigns perpetrated in schools, companies, institutions, families, and other social groups.” Wikipedia

Why a smear campaign? What is Facebook afraid of? There’s plenty of space on the Internet for everyone to reap the benefits. The Daily Best says there is a 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.”

We have seen our smear campaigns through history such as General Motors against Ralph Nader and Nixon’s re-election campaign. I am just delight that this one got nipped in the bud before it arrived in the press. Now, lies are recoiling on Facebook as well as Burson-Marsteller. The social network and the 58-year old PR firm have a lot of cleaning up to do. Burson’s CEO, Mark Penn, Burson’s CEO, was the political consultant for Bill Clinton, and is best known as the chief strategist in HIllary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.