PR Firm Backed by Facebook Prompts Media to Cover Google Privacy Issues

By May 13, 2011
A duel has begun

An unfolding drama shows that Facebook sought a PR campaign to publicize privacy infringement of little known Google service Social Circles. Burson-Marsteller asked bloggers to publish op-eds on this subject.

A public relations move by Facebook this week via global PR firm Burson-Marsteller has now been criticized by the media as well as redacted by its participants, at least partially. The beginning of this story began with a press prompt regarding privacy issues surrounding Social Circles from Google.

John Mercurio of Burson-Marsteller emailed blogger Christopher Soghoian on May third with publicly available but gathered information, verifiable from news sources, about Google's recent privacy and legal history. The prompt states, "Google is collecting, storing and mining millions of people’s personal information from a number of different online services and sharing it without the knowledge, consent or control of the people involved."

Supplemental content underscores the FTC's ruling of a government mandated privacy review, as well as on Social Circles, a Google product that collects user data from various public and social network sites and connects people via their public contacts, friends or colleagues.

B-M suggested that the resulting story would find a home on such news sites as "the Washington Post, The Hill, Roll Call or the Huffington Post." Instead, Soghoian posted the correspondence.

On Tuesday, USA Today reported on the BM "whisper campaign," where they explained the PR firm pushed them to run an editorial on Social Circle - what USA Today refers to as "an obscure Google Gmail feature" - the publication ultimately concluded that Google routinely creates privacy infringing products, Social Circle included but not exceptional.

The Daily Beast pointed out Facebook as the undisclosed client who began the campaign. Their reasoning was based on privacy concerns, and also on the fact that much of Google's collected data comes from Facebook. The Daily Beast also emphasizes the growing rivalry between the two companies on the social network frontier.

Since the players in this drama have been made public, both Burson-Marsteller and Facebook have issued statements. BM's spokesman has said that this type of campaign is "not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined," as CNET was told today. In turn, Facebook has stated that they did not intend a "smear campaign," as a USA Today update explains.

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