Facebook enlists PR agency in Google smear campaign

In a scandal rocking the Internet, Facebook has been accused of secretly hiring a PR company to plant negative stories about Google in a full fledged smear campaign.

Apparently, Facebook hired major PR firm Burson-Marseteller to pitch anti-Google stories to bloggers and journalists, which was made worse when one member of the firm offered to help one blogger, Chris Soghoian, write a Google bashing article. 

The pitches asked journalists to question Google’s security and privacy protection, describing to writers that Google’s social network Social Circle was “designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users – in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google’s] agreement with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission].”

Burson sent emails to Soghoian hoping to get the anti-Google story published in one of his regular outlets. Not only did the journalist refused to do this, he named and shamed Burson, publishing the emails on the Internet.

The story exploded when USA Today published a piece stating that two Burson PRs, former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman and John Mercurio, former political reporter, pushed reporters to write stories claiming Google was violating people’s privacy with Social Circle. The story accused Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”

While the majority of the Internet would have guessed that rivals Apple or Microsoft were behind the dirty campaign, The Daily Beast revealed that the responsible party was Facebook.

A spokesman for Facebook confirmed the company hired Burson because it believes Google has questionable privacy practices when it comes to social networking and because Google attempts to use Facebook data in its own social networking service Social Circle.

Paul Cordasco, a spokesman for Burson-Masteller, told The Guardian the assignment was “not at all standard operating procedure.” He added: “The assignment on those terms should have been declined.” The paper reported that the relationship between Burson-Masteller and Facebook has since been terminated.

The scandal is certainly not a good thing for Facebook, a company that already has problems convincing users of its security and trustworthiness.