The Irony of Facebook's Secret PR War Against Google

Mark Zuckerberg and friends were worried about Google violating users' privacy

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There are so many fun headlines possibilities for today's news about Facebook secretly hiring a top PR firm to smear Google in an effort to quash some of their efforts on the social front:

  • Googlegate: Facebook's Nixon-Style Campaign Against Its Biggest Rival
  • Once, Twice, Three Times As Shady: The Latest in Facebook's War on Google
  • Mark Zuckerberg Is So Worried About Your Privacy, He Wants to Stymie Google's Social Efforts

But those aren't the kind of headlines Facebook paid for! The Daily Beast has confirmed rumors that the tech giant was behind an obnoxiously obvious campaign to smear Google in the press. To make matters worse for Facebook, the story they wanted to spread is the same one that's sullied Facebook's reputation: "sweeping violations of user privacy."

The fiasco started when blogger and privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian posted a suspicious email exchange he'd had with a representative from Burston Marsteller, one of the world's biggest PR agencies. (Burson's CEO Mark Penn served as chief strategist in Hilary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.) The agency had offered to help Soghoian write and disseminate to top press outlets a blog post exposing how Google has been invading and profiting from its users' privacy. USA Today followed up a week later confirming suspicions that the "whisper campaign" not only existed but was in fact quite widespread and drew the connection to Google's war with Facebook on the social front. Burson refused to reveal the name of the company that had hired them for the campaign.

Facebook finally fessed up last night, and the timing couldn't have been worse. News also broke on Wednesday night that a "security flaw" has actually been giving away people's personal information for years. The company attempted to stand behind its PR campaign first in the name of users' best interest and second in the name of Facebook's best interest. Google's new social initiative, Social Circle, invaded people's privacy without their consent, and in doing so, the search company was scraping Facebook data in a way that violated the social network's terms and conditions. It almost hurts to hear that the company founded and chiefed by Mark Zuckerberg, a next generation guy who famously doesn't believe in privacy, is suddenly worried about protecting people's personal data. Facebook's own list of privacy violations runs from abandoned attempts to sell user information to advertisers to a scuffle earlier this year over Facebook sharing users' home addresses with third party applications without proper consent. This latest scandal certainly doesn't look good vis-a-vis that Facebook's latest PR challenge: convincing people that censorship is okay too.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.