Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

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.

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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.

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Google

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58 comments
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  • Like facebook is the only company to do this???

    cone on, Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle, MS, you name it they all do the same.
    Will Pharaoh
    • The first defense of the scoundrel

      @Will Pharaoh <br>"Everybody does it"<br><br>Reply to Will's reply: If it were true, then I suspect it would be less controversial. But even if corporations are that crooked, it raises the question of why we should trust or do business with any of them any more than we absolutely have to (but you don't strike me as a free software advocate).<br><br>In reality, "everybody does it" is just an excuse raised by those who get caught and their loyal supporters to escape the consequences of their misdeeds.<br><br>Reply to WilErz:<br><br>Firms are composed of people. Firms composed of and led by ethical people who decline to leave their morals outside the office door, will be ethical. Those that are not won't be. The Pickens Doctrine (corporations exist for the sole purpose of maximizing profit for the shareholders) has become corporate orthodoxy, but it begs the question of why states should charter or recognize corporations at all (there was a time when corporations were few and the vast majority of commerical enterprises were either sole proprietorships or partnerships). Can you make a case that it's in the public interest to require corporations to focus on profit to the exclusion of all other concerns (moral or otherwise)? I can't.
      John L. Ries
      • I know. That stinks, doesn't it?

        @John L. Ries
        Thats how all those companies play the game with us in the middle of it all.
        Will Pharaoh
      • These are firms, not people.

        @ John L. Ries

        People can be moral or they can be scoundrels. Firms simply maximise profit within the economic framework in place.

        It is the state that defines the framework in which firms operate. Firms can't be expected to be moral, only to adhere to the law when the expected cost of breaking it is greater than the expected gain. If you want firms to stop doing something, the only way to do it is for the state to make that thing unprofitable.
        WilErz
      • Slightly off topic: Pro-Business Advertising Slogans

        Since large numbers of people have deluded themselves into thinking that commercial enterprises exist to serve their customers, instead of the reverse, marketing departments would be well advised to educate the public accordingly.<br><br>Examples:<br><br>"The bottom line is our top priority."<br><br>"XYZCorp: Where money is all that matters."<br><br>"ROI Associates: Highest profits in the industry"<br><br>"We buy in bulk, and pass the savings on to our shareholders."<br><br>"Grindstone Enterprises: Where customers are the most important revenue stream".<br><br>...and finally (since commercial competition is notorious for depressing profits):<br><br>"Where else are you going to go?"

        Reply to GDF:

        These are pro-business advertising slogans. "Don't be evil" does not qualify because it assumes that morality is a more important criterion when making business decisions than is profit (a brazen anti-business heresy).
        John L. Ries
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @John L. Ries: marketing advertising slogans

        Hey, you forgot the greatest marketing slogan of our time:

        DO NO EVIL*.



        * Disclaimer: The precise definition of "evil" is context sensitive. It is not evil to be a disruptive force in the IT space, although when we take over large portions of that space, we may redefine "evil" to better suit our position. We take weekly polls of our workforce to determine what feels like "evil" at the time, and try to avoid doing that.
        GDF
      • Further Response to WilErz

        Further reply to WilErz:<br><br>I'll note that many of the people who claim that likely profit should be the only consideration when making business decisions are also opposed to any effort by legislators to make supposedly unethical business decisions unprofitable (other than *maybe* the common law definitions of fraud, theft, debauchery, and extortion; narrowly construed). Nevertheless, I'll repeat the question: If profit should be the only consideration when making corporate business decisions, why is it in the public interest for states to charter or recognize corporations? For extra credit, why is it in the public interest for commercial enterprises to be amoral?

        Edit: No you didn't answer my questions. I understand quite well what publicly traded corporations are expected to do. I think it stinks and that it should discourage people from patronizing one and maybe even to think twice about applying for a job from one (unless one has no other choice). It certainly shouldn't be used as an excuse to shield corporate executives from criticism.

        The more insidious aspect of the Pickens Doctrine is that it has the long term effect of undermining public confidence in the capitalist system itself, thus encouraging the very commercial regulatory regime (if not public ownership of commercial firms) business conservatives profess to abhor.
        John L. Ries
      • My comment is positive, not normative

        @ John L. Ries

        You've obviously misunderstood my comment. I made no statement about what firms should do. I made a statement about what firms do do. In economic theory, firms are viewed as pure profit maximisers, and for publicly traded firms in the Anglo-Saxon system, where managers are accountable to only one stakeholder -- the shareholders, this theoretical construct comes reasonably close to reality. Barring gross violations of the law (e.g. murder), firms will generally only behave 'morally' when it's profitable to do so.

        In continental Europe, firms are held accountable to multiple stakeholders (including shareholders, but also, e.g., trade unions representing the employees), so the situation is rather different, particularly in terms of treatment of employees. Nevertheless, managers still often engage in activities which harm consumers and are per se illegal, like price fixing, if they think doing so will increase expected profit. A lot of them simply view it as part of the job: if caught, they take the blame, step down and then a few years later reappear at another firm. If successful, they achieve higher profits, and the stakeholders look the other way.

        It's because of routine management decisions to engage in per se illegal activity that EU law recently followed US law in allowing executives who engage in such activities to be imprisoned (rather than simply fined as in the past). Of course there is a high bar: it wouldn't be reasonable to imprison executives whose behaviour is, for example, anti-competitive but not per se illegal. They have to be certain at the time they act that they're unquestionably breaking the law.

        If you re-read my comment as it is, rather than placed into a context which you yourself have imagined, you'll find that your questions are redundant.
        WilErz
      • Follow-up

        @ John L. Ries

        I'll also respond to your suggestion that the moral nature of most individuals implies moral behaviour by firms. There are branches of philosophy which view humans as essentially amoral (or immoral), but the evidence against them is overwhelming. Apart from a small minority who are mentally disordered, most people are basically (but certainly not perfectly) moral. It's a result of our evolutionary environment -- representing either widespread mistakes (confusing unrelated or distantly related people with close relatives) or some form of group selection (selection of groups composed of relatively more co-operative individuals). This is a very contentious issue, but nobody with any sense believes people are basically amoral.

        If most people are moral, at least to some degree, then why can't we expect most managers to be moral, and for most firms to therefore behave morally? There are two parts to the answer. First, a pure free market driven by shareholder activity is an evolutionary environment in which the sole measure of success is sustained profit. Firms that are consistently more profitable than their competitors gain an advantage that increases over time. All else equal, a consistently more profitable firm will eventually drive all the other firms out of the market, and achieve monopoly status.

        If everyone were perfectly moral, then even in a pure free market, firms would behave perfectly morally. However, if selected amoral behaviour leads to higher sustained profit, then firms run by managers who are competent but sufficiently amoral will gain a competitive advantage. A more moral manager who realises this will then face a choice between selectively imitating the amoral managers on the one hand, or losing to them in the market on the other. Some will choose selective amorality over losing to competitors they believe to be entirely amoral. Others will remain moral and eventually be driven out of the market, whilst still others will realise the futility of remaining and exit voluntarily.

        In the end, in a pure free market driven by shareholder decisions, if amoral behaviour is more profitable, then firms run by amoral managers will be more fit than others, and over time will predominate. Moral behaviour by firms can only be achieved with a carefully designed legal framework. Legal requirements for co-determination help, but don't ensure moral behaviour towards consumers. That's where things like competition policy come into the picture. However, the subjective nature of some competition law can make it difficult to separate 'good' competition policy (that promotes competition) from 'bad' competition policy (that needlessly distorts market outcomes, rewards political favourites, etc.). This is especially difficult in very dynamic industries, and those with increasing returns to scale. Moreover, free movement of goods and capital can undermine any national/regional legal system.
        WilErz
      • Re: Follow up

        @WilErz<br>If you're right, then you have a serious argument against unregulated, or even free markets, in that they encourage amoral behavior and you have an even more serious argument against the purely governmental practice of establishing and recognizing limited liability corporations (it's always bad public policy to encourage bad behavior).<br><br>At the very least, it becomes reasonable to suggest that not only do consumers have the right, but the duty to punish unethical firms by withholding patronage from them, as it can be assumed that money is all they care about and is the only thing likely to modify their behavior. It also behooves workers to be careful whom they accept a job from and to be ready to look elsewhere when the duties of employment start to conflict with conscience. Admittedly, outsiders are dealing with limited information, but when the abuse is obvious, then it should cause people to change their own behavior towards the firm in question. In the end, we (the public; as consumers, workers, investors, and voters) are the invisible hand and we only get as good a market as we deserve.<br><br>Thank you for the argument. Hopefully, you got as much benefit from it as I did.
        John L. Ries
    • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

      @Will Pharaoh
      And yet Facebook has deep ties with which company? Oh yeah one of the worst offenders!.
      Rick_K
      • So ignore the proven bogus Mac vs PC ads,

        @Rick_K
        And Now I really wonder what ties you have to a certain deep pocketed CE company. ;)
        Will Pharaoh
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @Will Pharaoh
        "And Now I really wonder what ties you have to a certain deep pocketed CE company."

        Wonder all you like, but the fact of the matter is its baseless. On the other hand, we do in fact know Facebook has been spreading FUD and they are known to be part owned by MS.
        anono
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @Will Pharaoh
        <i>And Now I really wonder what ties you have to a certain deep pocketed CE company.</i>

        Wonder all you like, because I have no ties to any company. But this F.U.D. campaign fits a certain company?s strategy. Pointing that out does not require ties to any company. If Apple, Motorola, Google, etc. were doing the same thing I would have the same reaction. THere are companies that have a long history of doing things I would consider ?ethically challenged?, but they have been successful, so what I think does not matter one bit.
        Rick_K
      • Part owned by MS?

        @anono
        Because MS invested in them? Then Apple is part owned by Rick_K because he invested in them, so it makes my assumptions even more valid.

        (BTW - I noticed you where flagged, and it wasn't me. I think we're being played here)
        Will Pharaoh
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @Will Pharaoh
        I'm not sure about how much share MS owns or the complete extent of their relationship, but I'm pretty sure MS owns a significant amount of portion to hold influence and that they have a strong relation with facebook (other than just holding their share).
        anono
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @Will Pharaoh
        <i>Then Apple is part owned by Rick_K because he invested in them, so it makes my assumptions even more valid.</i>

        I wish I invested in Apple, with their current stock price I could live the rest of my life without ever having to worry about money. :) What I do wonder is: who?s pocket are you in? Certainly there has to be some sort of monitory arrangement, unless you?re in it for religious aspects?
        Rick_K
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @Rick_K Right, you preach how Google's customers are actually their product and you ridicule him about the religious aspect?

        This article my friend is what they call Crow so eat up!
        slickjim
      • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

        @Rick_K Exactly from my uderstading it was only from heavy investments from Microsoft that Facebook even became what it was and took out the then standard Myspace.

        If I had to guess I would say it is the big Sugar Daddy Microsoft who is using Facebook to attack Google from behind the scens.

        It is funny this all comes just as Bing is really trying to compete with Google and just after it added Blackberry and Sybion as partners who will use Bing instead of Google for Locaiton and the like.
        electroman76
    • RE: Facebook admits to hiring PR firm for Google smear campaign

      @Will Pharaoh

      if you are correct does that excuse anyone from doing it?

      With your logic then it is cycle that perpetuates itself and cannot stop. Who will be the first to stop these slimey practices?

      Huh, guess since one person steals my car I can steal their car, their property or maybe rob them for cash?
      Raid6