Score one for Journalism today. Various media outlets have been getting anti-Google story pitches lately from the noted public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller. The campaign was outed in a tweet on May 3 by online security researcher and activist blogger Christopher Soghoian, who wrote: “Just pitched by PR firm wanting ghost write an anti-Google op-ed for me. I am quite capable of authoring my own anti-google stuff thank you.” He later reprinted the e-mail exchange online, which you can check out here.
The story was developed further in a USA Today report, which pointed to a social media-oriented Gmail feature called Social Circle as the target of the pitches on behalf of Burson-Marsteller’s “unnamed client.” Now, The Daily Beast has learned who that client is, and straight from the source no less: Facebook.
Confronted with evidence, a spokesperson for the social media giant confirmed the company’s hiring of Burson-Masteller. Facebook believes the campaign is justified. There is a general concern at the company over Google’s attitude toward user privacy as well as specific issues with Google’s attempts to populate its own social offering with Facebook data.
Said offering, Google’s Social Circle, allows Gmail account holders to see information about friends and friends of friends — called “secondary connections” — using data posted publicly on Facebook. It’s not so different from Google News, The Daily Beast’s Daniel Lyons notes, which aggregates content from many sources into a single list. We are talking about a company founded as a search engine here.
The perspective at Facebook is that Google is in violation of the network’s terms of service. “We are concerned that Google may be improperly using data they have scraped about Facebook users,” the company spokesperson said. Google has yet to issue a statement of its own, but the prevailing attitude among analysts and observers is that the privacy issues surrounding Social Circle aren’t as dramatic as they’re being made out to be. That’s not to say concerns about Google and user privacy are unwarranted, but this particular scheme has backfired on its maker and the egg is now squarely on Facebook’s… errr… face.