It's not Republicans vs. Democrats: It's Facebook vs. Google

BlogHer Original Post

It seems that politicians don't have a lock on dirty tricks. Facebook, the company famous for privacy issues, recently got caught trying to paint Google with the privacy-violations brush. Once caught in the transgression, Facebook didn't do a very believable job of trying to explain it away. Here's how it happened.

When the story first broke, we learned that someone had hired a PR firm called Burson-Marsteller to plant and/or encourage anti-privacy stories about Google in the media. We didn't know who that someone was at first.

According to Paid Content's PR Firm’s Attempt To Plant Anti-Google Privacy Story Backfires

...someone is making a concerted PR effort to pile on with yet more stories, apparently seeing privacy as a weak point for the search giant. One of the world’s largest PR firms, Burson-Marsteller, is now under scrutiny after its failed attempt to plant an anti-Google privacy story in USA Today.

Dan Lyons got the scoop on revealing who that someone was on The Daily Beast in Facebook Busted in Clumsy Smear on Google.

But who was the mysterious unnamed client? While fingers pointed at Apple and Microsoft, The Daily Beast discovered that it's a company nobody suspected—Facebook.

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.

With Google attempting to expand into the social networking business – apparently using information public on Facebook – a secret smear campaign was Facebook's chosen method of fighting back.

Once the word was out that Facebook was behind the campaign, the furor grew even greater.

Jolie O'Dell's Google Versus Facebook: Following the Money suggested

Facebook’s ad revenue hit an impressive $1.86 billion for 2010, and the site may account for as much as one-third of display ad impressions. For 2011, Facebook is expected to bring in $4.05 billion in advertising revenues worldwide, $2.19 billion of which will come from the U.S. market.

Also, given Google’s recent launch of +1 — a half social, half traffic-generating web search feature — Facebook might be feeling even more pressure to make sure users are wary of the tool and less likely to use it without overthinking it. After all +1 is a Facebook Like competitor. And both +1 and Likes can generate valuable data used in ad targeting.

Other comments looked at the moral questions. On Mashable, Stan Schroeder said,

It’s one thing to publicly voice your concern about another company’s privacy practices — Microsoft, Google and Facebook have been throwing jabs at each other for some time now — but hiring a PR agent to try to influence bloggers to write negative press about a competitor — that’s a PR catastrophe of the highest degree.

The PR firm said the campaign was against their policies but they did it because Facebook wanted it.TechCrunch called the PR firm "sleazy" and complained that Facebook lost face.

Finally Facebook responded with a public statement. You can read it in full on Paid Content in Who Bungled Attempt To Plant An Anti-Google Privacy Story? It’s Facebook. Part of Facebook's statement is,

No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles . . .

The funny thing about those third party verifications was that Burson-Marsteller was offering to help media outlets write them. The emails to prove it have been unearthed.

In a post on TechCrunch about Facebook's statement, the comment was,

I’m not sure I’ve ever read something so disingenuous.

Where money and power are concerned, we know things get messy. Google and Facebook, the two alpha boys on the playground, are in a battle for both. But Facebook chose the wrong method of defending its turf with this clumsy scheme.

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
virginia.debolt@blogher.com

Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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