Facebook Loses Face in Clumsy Smear Campaign

The social network hired a top PR firm to smear its Internet rival Google, according to a recent story by Dan Lyons at the Daily Beast.


For the past few days, a mystery has been unfolding in Silicon Valley. Somebody, it seems, 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 even offered to help 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.


But things went awry when the blogger rejected the offer and posted the emails he exchanged with Burson. Still, The “unnamed client” in those emails remained a mystery. Fingers pointed towards Apple and Microsoft, two companies with a history of less-than-honest play. But Lyons traced it back to a company no one expected, Facebook. Yesterday, a spokesperson from Facebook confirmed the allegations, citing two main reasons for hiring Burson: first, because Google was raising concerns about user privacy, but secondly, and more importantly, because Google is using data mined from Facebook in its own social-networking platform.


The name of the service is Social Circle. It lets anyone with a Gmail account view information about their friends, as well the friends of their friends. Sounds a lot like Facebook, right? Well, not exactly. Like Google News, which aggregates content from thousands of blogs and newspapers around the world, Social Circle doesn’t offer anything original per se.   It simply gathers data from other websites like Facebook and Twitter, and then repackages it in a nice, clean framework


Needless to say, Google’s service has the social network running scared, scared enough to risk its crafted image in a foolish PR fumble. The battle between Google and Facebook will be one of the defining landmarks of the Internet Age. In the end, the war is all about advertising. The personal data that both companies collect allow them to precisely target ads to specific users. For advertisers, that data is gold, and it is the prize over which these two giants fight.


In all likelihood, Google is probably engaging in some questionable activity by mining data from Facebook. But Facebook blew its chance to play that card. At the end of the day, it’s Facebook that loses face.