If you haven’t heard by now, the news that Facebook launched a secret attack against Google broke late last week. Facebook hired PR agency Burson-Marsteller to run an anti-Google campaign. Two newly hired employees ran the secret operation with involved pitching anti-Google stories to newspapers and urging them to investigate Google’s rumored Social Circle for invading users’ privacy. A claim which I find rather ironic considering Facebook’s spotty past and history of playing fast and loose with users’ privacy. The PR agents offered to help a blogger write a piece slamming Google, with the promise that they would get it published in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. Instead, the blogger turned the tables and published the email pitching the offer. USA Today picked up the story and the rest is history.
At first, no one knew who was behind the Google attack. It was believed that maybe Apple or Microsoft was the culprit. Burson-Marsteller refused to give the name of their client. Finally, Facebook collapsed under the pressure and admitted to hiring the firm. Facebook says that their launched the campaign because they believe Google is upsetting social networking privacy and resents that they may use Facebook data in its own social networking service.
Google’s rumored Social Circle would let people with a Gmail account see information about their friends and friends of friends. It would also incorporate information from other social networking sites. Facebook claims that 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.”
Burson-Marsteller says that they will not fire the two new hires but will give them extra training and redistribute their code of ethics to all of their employees. The PRSA’s code of ethics lists numerous points but I believe one of the most important is to “work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession”. Burson-Marsteller did not exactly follow that guideline. The public is already so distrustful of advertising and public relations; they don’t need added reasons to hate us!