Facebook Caught Conducting Smear Campaign Against Google

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Google built their network on search and advertising; Facebook is a social network. If you thought these two technology heavyweights aren’t rivals, think again.

Facebook was caught conducting a stealth attack on Google, through big-time public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, who pitched anti-Google stories to journalists, urging them to investigate claims that the search giant’s new Social Circle feature was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.

This is in regard to an obscure Gmail feature called Social Circle, that Gmail claims allows users to make social connections based on public information and private connections across its products.

However, the plan backfired when privacy expert Chris Soghoian refused the deal, and instead posted the email exchange. Following that, USA Today picked up on the story, and realized that they had been pushed to do a similar story. Of course, that left the unanswered question: Who was the unnamed client? Not Microsoft, not Apple – Facebook.

To Facebook’s credit, the company did not deny the accusations, but when confronted with the evidence, a Facebook spokes person admitted that they had hired the firm, citing two reasons: first, it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.

The move is especially perplexing, as it only brings to light Facebook’s own checkered past when it comes to handling users’ privacy. The social networking site has played fast and loose with users’ privacy in the past, quietly exposing once private information to the public, with privacy controls that are difficult to use.