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Facebook: It Wasn't a ''Smear Campaign''

Yesterday, a story highlighting the increasingly sour relations between Facebook and Google exploded all over the front pages of countless blogs and major news publications. It seemed someone had hired top PR firm Burson-Marsteller to pitch anti-Google stories to the media. The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyon reported that he had confronted Facebook with evidence and a representative confirmed the social network was the company that had hired Burson. However, Facebook is today denying that it employed Burson to start a smear campaign. Instead, the hugely popular social network is claiming it merely wanted third parties to “verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles.”

“No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles — just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose,” the company said in a statement sent to the LA Times. “We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”

The statement does its best to downplay Facebook’s actions -- that last line about being more transparent is probably as close to Facebook admitting playing dirty wasn’t a clever move as we’ll get -- however, even if the company did have only the best of intentions with this campaign, it still doesn’t explain why Facebook didn’t just come out and say something if it has such a big problem with the way Social Circle works. Facebook says Google is breaking the Facebook terms of service. If that’s the case, TechCrunch points out that Facebook could have sued Google or simply blocked them from using this data. The fact that Facebook chose to employ a company to bad-mouth Social Circle rather than publicly stating that it felt it was an invasion of privacy just undermines its concerns about the feature.

Facebook has yet to comment further on the matter. In light of the accusations that it is breaking the Facebook ToS, Google yesterday said the social network’s claim is a new one and that it needs time to consider a response.