Last Thursday, Facebook was ousted for hiring a PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, to plant negative stories about Google in the US Media.
The story first broke because Burson-Marsteller was attempting to get a prominent blogger, Chris Soghoian, to write one of the stories. Instead, he decided to publish the email exchange. Silicon Valley was quickly awash with rumours of who could have hired the PR firm, with Microsoft and Apple being the early favourites.
However, to the surprise of many, the Daily Beast uncovered the perpetrators to be Facebook. To their credit, they quickly owned up and gave two reasons for hiring the firm; first, it believes part of Google’s social networking raises privacy concerns; second, Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.
Barring the odd court case and less than flattering film, Facebook has managed to cultivate a positive public image. This, along with their complete market domination is why their name was at the bottom of the list when identifying potential suspects in this latest smear campaign.
Google, on the other hand, has built up quite a reputation for their inability to succeed in social media with Google Wave and Buzz failing to get off the ground. It is their most recent foray, Social Circles, that Facebook is claiming brings up privacy concerns and uses their data.
Before this story though, how many people do you think actively used Social Circles or even knew what it was? I would guess at a very small percentage of the millions who regularly use Google search.
So why did Facebook feel the need to smear a service that is still far from being a threat?
Google has made no secret of their desire to launch a successful social media service. This year, it has been made a top priority and, if reports are to be believed, 25% of employee’s bonuses is riding on the success of its social strategy. Therefore, it could be that Facebook were hoping to get in early to disrupt their plans before Google had a chance to get off the ground – an extreme measure at this early stage.
The ‘concern over privacy’ is a hollow argument for Facebook. The fact that their attempt at a smear campaign backfired so spectacularly is largely down to journalists and bloggers not seeing any story in the information the PR Company was trying to push. The message from that is that there are no real privacy concerns with what Google is doing presently.
Facebook being upset at Google using its’ data in their social networking service is more likely to be the reason for the campaign. This sort of childish behaviour is becoming more common amongst the large companies. Google exhibited similar traits when they complained about Microsoft using their search results in Bing.
Whatever the real reason for the smear campaign, not only have Facebook damaged their reputation; they have highlighted frailties that very few expected to see.