By Quentin Fottrell
This week, public-relations giant Burson-Marsteller finally admitted that it was secretly representing Facebook to raise alleged consumer privacy issues at Google. Facebook, which has had its own share of privacy problems, told Pay Dirt: “No smear campaign was authorized or intended.” (Google didn’t return a request for comment.)
It was the corporate equivalent of passing an anonymous note around the classroom: Facebook wanted bloggers to write about alleged privacy issues relating to Google’s Social Circles feature, which allows Gmail customers to connect to friends on social networking sites. Blogger Christopher Soghoian decided to post his email exchange with Burson-Marsteller.
Burson-Marsteller said in a statement, “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.” Soghoian told Pay Dirt, “It is true. The email thread I posted online is exactly what I got from those PR hacks.” It’s not quite as elegantly put as the Burson-Marsteller’s carefully worded statement, but in the PR firm’s defense it also said that it should have declined the secret Facebook assignment.
A spokeswoman for Facebook was less apologetic: “You and your readers can look at the [Social Circles] feature and decide if they have approved of this collection and use of information by clicking here when their Google account is open. 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.”
From a customer’s perspective, who comes out looking the worst?