May 12, 2011

Did Facebook Hire A PR Firm To Tarnish Google’s Name?

Reports surfaced on Thursday claim that Facebook hired a PR firm to get USA Today and other news outlets to try and smear Google's name in the social network world.

The Daily Beast confirmed that Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's largest PR firms, to get USA Today, the Washington Post and other high profile U.S. news outlets to write negative stories about Google's privacy policies.

However, Paul Cordasco, a spokesman for Burson-Marsteller, told the Guardian that the assignment was "not at all standard operating procedure" and was against the company's policies.

He said "The assignment on those terms should have been declined."

Cordasco confirmed to the Guardian that "the assignment" was now terminated and that the PR firm was no longer working with Facebook.

CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman and John Mercurio, a former political reporter, were both hired by Burson-Marsteller to approach USA Today and other news outlets to write op-ed columns and other stories that raised privacy concerns about Google Social Circle, a social network feature based on Gmail.

USA Today looked into the claims, but later decided they were exaggerated.

After Goldman's pitch proved largely untrue, he subsequently declined USA Today's requests for comments," the paper reported.

The two claimed Social Circle was "designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users "“ in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google's] agreement with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission]."

Facebook's cover was blown when the PR firm offered to help write an op-ed for Chris Soghoian, a prominent Internet security blogger.  He challenged the company's assertion that Social Circle was a privacy threat and accused them of "making a mountain out of molehill."

Soghoian later published an email exchange between himself and Mercurio.

Cordasco said on Thursday: "Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

"The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources."

"Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle."


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