News24

Facebook's anti-Google campaign backfires

2011-05-12 20:20

Cape Town - US social media giant Facebook has tried to smear rival search giant Google and it's Social Circle tool which is designed to scrape private data, but was caught out by the media in the US when they checked the story.

According to The Daily Beast when confronted with evidence, a Facebook spokesperson last night confirmed that Facebook hired Burson a US PR company, citing two reasons.

First, because it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, because Facebook resents Google's attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.

At issue in this latest skirmish between the two US internet giants is a Google tool called Social Circle, which lets people with Gmail accounts see information not only about their friends but also about the friends of their friends, which Google calls "secondary connections".

Burson, in its pitch to journalists, 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".

The US national newspaper USA Today reported that two PR flacks from Burson - former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman, and John Mercurio, a former politcal reporter - had been pushing reporters at USA Today and other outlets to write stories and editorials claiming Google was violating people’s privacy with Social Circle.

USA Today looked into it, but decided the claims were exaggerated - at which point, Goldman ran for cover.

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

While most Facebook users "freely provide information about themselves, it's far less clear that they understand how that information is being used by Facebook or third parties to profile them", says Opus Research analyst Greg Sterling.

Even so, Google has set out to emulate Facebook by using tracking programs and algorithms to connect more members from the top social networks to Gmail users.

The incident is embarrassing both for Facebook, which has been working to set itself up as "trustworthy", and for Burson, a high-end firm that has represented important clients like the Clintons, says The Daily Beast.