Thanks to Google I/O, there’s a lot of Google news this week. Whether it’s Google Music, Android activations, Android @ Home or the new Chromebooks, Google has given us plenty of reasons to write about its activities. However, while Google was busy preparing for a week of being in the headlines, one PR company has been trying to even things out by pitching anti-Google stories to the media.
The Daily Beast reports that one of the world’s largest PR firms, Burson-Marsteller, has been planting anti-Google stories with bloggers and the press for the last week or so. Its attempts to get anti-Google content published include pitches to the Washington Post and USA Today urging further investigation into a Google feature that’s supposedly invading people’s privacy.
The feature in question is a Gmail tool called Social Circle, which allows you to see information about your friends and your friends’ friends, or, as Google calls them, “secondary connections.” Burson claimed in its email to publications that this was a massive invasion of privacy and that the tool was ‘designed to scrap private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users.’
The pitch came to light after it was published in full by blogger Christopher Soghoian. Soghoian was contacted by Burson to see if he would be interested in writing (or posting a ghost-written) entry for his blog on the alleged privacy concerns surrounding Social Circle. The Daily Beast contacted Facebook and reports that a spokesperson admitted the social network was the client that hired Burson to plant the stories. Relations between Google and Facebook have been strained for a while, and it seems the smear campaign was in response to the fact that Social Circle supposedly incorporates content pulled from Facebook.
“What really seems to be angering Facebook is that some of the stuff that pops up under “secondary connections” in Google’s Social Circle is content pulled from Facebook,” writes Dan Lyons of the Daily Beast. “In other words, just as Google built Google News by taking content created by hundreds of newspapers and repackaging it, so now Google aims to build a social-networking business by using that rich user data that Facebook has gathered.”
Facebook says the using user data in this way violates its terms of service. Google says Facebook’s claim is a new one and that it needs time to consider a response. For its part, Burson says the Facebook deal was "not at all standard operating procedure" and was against the company's policies. A spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper “the assignment on those terms should have been declined,” adding that it was against company policy and it was no longer working with Facebook.