Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

Summary:Facebook is at the center of a brewing scandal as it has been discovered that the social networking giant had hired a PR firm with the intent of smearing Google.

Facebook is at the center of a brewing scandal as it has been discovered that the social networking giant had hired a PR firm with the intent of smearing Google.

According to The Daily Beast, Facebook hired the esteemed Burson-Marsteller public relations firm to take on the secret task, which included pitching "anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy" as well as helping "an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post."

Facebook has since confirmed its involvement to The Daily Beast for the following 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.

Burson-Marsteller, on the other hand, seems to be uneasy about how to respond to the situation, which isn't too impressive for a PR firm. First, Burson reps said:

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 now, as published by The Financial Times, Burson is already trying to apologize for its involvement:

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.

So far, the only one who hasn't said anything is Google, which appears to be the smartest approach at this point. Not only is the Mountain View-based company tied up with its own I/O conference in San Francisco this week and responding to hearings regarding its privacy standards in Washington, but it's better for the Goog just to wait until it can form the most dignified and diplomatic response possible.

Right now, both Burson and Facebook are looking both foolish and dishonest, and Google could just take the lead once they're done trying to cover up the mess they made themselves.

Related coverage on ZDNet:

Topics: Social Enterprise, Google


Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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