Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

Summary: Facebook has admitted to hiring the PR firm that asked news outlets to look into privacy issues with Google but denies that it authorized a smear campaign.


Last week, PR firm Burson-Marsteller started to plant negative stories about Google. The company was pitching anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that the search giant was invading people's privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing opinion editorial, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post. The blogger turned down Burson's offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him.

Earlier this week, the USA Today broke the story and accused Burson-Marsteller of spreading a "whisper campaign" about Google "on behalf of an unnamed client." Specifically, the newspaper said the PR firm had contacted a variety of news outlets pushing a story about how Google's "Social Circle" Gmail feature violates users' privacy.

Today, The Daily Beast unearthed that the client was not one of the usual suspects (Apple or Microsoft). The website found it was Facebook, and decided it was going to bust the social network for the "clumsy smear" on Google. Facebook confirmed it was funding the initiative for two reasons: because it believes Google is doing things in social networking that raise privacy concerns and because it resents Google's attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.

Why didn't Facebook merely post this information publicly? The company chose to go to a third party on purpose. The Financial Times decided to find out.

"The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media," a Burson-Marsteller said in a statement. "Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources. 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."

I contacted Facebook myself to hear their defense.

"No 'smear' campaign was authorized or intended," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "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—just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way. You and your readers can look at the feature and decide if they have approved of this collection and use of information by clicking here when their Google account is open: http://www.google.com/s2/search/social. Of course, people who do not have Gmail accounts are still included in this collection but they have no way to view or control it."

In short, this is yet another battle in the Google-Facebook war. It's not the first one and certainly will not be the last. The only thing that is clear is that Facebook's plan backfired pretty badly.

Topics: Google, Browser, Collaboration, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • We did not do it

    We did not intend to do it. You cannot prove we did it. We will not do it again. Honestly.

    Do they think we are stupid?
    • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign


      ... yes
    • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign


      Yes. Look at antennagate.
      • 8| what this has to do with vapor-scandal "antennagate"?

  • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

    They also did not authorise the theft of code used to write face book.
    They did not authorise any activity to dilute the shareholding of original investors.

    They did not authorise a policy which declares they own your photographs.
  • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

  • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

    Well, uh, Bob in accounting just paid Burson Marsteller's invoices without reading what the hours were used for. We're going to talk to him about that.

    Incidentally, saying BM was running wild: was that what BM suggested the best spin would be?
  • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

    I wonder if any of the news organizations that pick this up will realized they got Played, A stealth campaign to make people wonder about the security at google is now a main stream story. Sounds like a Brilliant PR operation to me, this story will now have a far greater effect than it would have as a whisper campaign, I wonder if it was planned this way.
  • RE: Facebook: we did not authorize anti-Google campaign

    I don't trust either one of them, unfortunately I have accounts on both.
  • Plausible deniability

    Facebook can claim that B-M exceeded its instructions and B-M can claim that management didn't know exactly what their employees were doing on Facebook's orders.

    Just one of the many reasons why outsourcing is so worthwhile.
    John L. Ries
  • Facebook is the one with privacy issues

    Look what I found about Facebook: