Facebook, which was found to have spearheaded efforts to plant negative stories about Google in the press, has released a statement on the issue.
Facebook denies that the company sought to discredit Google by launching a "smear" campaign and maintains that the Google privacy violations it tried to have journalists cover are "serious," relevant, and deserving of people's attention.
A Facebook spokesperson offered the Huffington Post the following statement about its work with Burson-Marsteller:
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. 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.
You and your readers can look at the feature and decide if they have approved of this collection and use of information by clicking here when their Google account is open: http://www.google.com/s2/search/social. Of course, people who do not have Gmail accounts are still included in this collection but they have no way to view or control it.
Facebook describes the issues with Google's Social Circle as "serious," though privacy experts have countered that the practices outlined in the pitches Burson-Marsteller sent to reporters do not constitute major privacy violations.
“The Social Circle has been out for over two years now,” Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land, told HuffPostTech. “Facebook seems to imply that Google has somehow harvested non-public information, but Facebook itself made changes last year that made all sorts of information more public. If Facebook has an issue about what Google’s showing it’s because of Facebook’s own publication of that information.”
Rather, the Facebook-backed PR campaign seems to bely the social network's fears about Google's efforts to launch its own social networking services and user data Facebook has compiled.
Burston-Marsteller has also issued a statement on its work for Facebook, acknowledging that it should have turned down the assignment:
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.
Does the PR campaign change the way you see Facebook--or Google? How? Were you surprised by Facebook's efforts?