So it's been a bad week on S California Avenue, Palo Alto. Facebook HQ must have been pretty busy after the bad press they've had. In case you missed what's happened, we'll give you a brief summary.
On May 3rd, an American online privacy and cybersecurity researcher called Christopher Soghoian published an email exchange (which you can read in full here) with a well known PR firm called Burson-Marsteller. Burson had contacted Soghoian asking if he would be interested in writing an op-ed piece about the 'privacy issues' behind Google's Social Circle. Burson even offered to "help place the op-ed and assist in the drafting, if needed". When Soghoian asked Burson who their client was he was told "I'm afraid I can't disclose my client yet". So Soghoian posted the emails online.
Then, on May 10th, USA Today posted an article on their website. As it turns out, Burson-Marsteller had also been contacting top-tier media outlets with a view to them writing about Social Circle and how it's "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" (which has now been proved to be "largely untrue").
USA Today contacted Google, who responded with:
"We have seen this e-mail reportedly sent by a representative of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller," says Chris Gaither, Google's senior manager of global communications and public affairs. "We're not going to comment further. Our focus is on delighting people with great products," he said.
Whilst all of this was going on, no one had yet found out who was paying Burson to seed these negative stories about Google. All that changed after The Daily Beast did a bit of digging and posted what they found on May 12th. Burson's client was Facebook - not Microsoft or Apple as first thought.
Confronted with evidence, a Facebook spokesman ... confirmed that Facebook hired Burson, citing two reasons: first, it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, Facebook resents Google's attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.
Delving deeper into why Facebook might be attempting to smear Google, The Daily Beast discovered that Google's Social Circle seems to be lifting content directly from Facebook. So Google are trying to use Facebook's data in their own social media venture. Facebook claim that this is a violation of their Terms of Service (which are well worth a read if you have the time) but are more likely worrying about the potential threat this would have on their stranglehold on the social media market.
Google wants some of the Facebook advertising revenue. Facebook - with its 600 million active users that are targeted by adverts that annually generate $2 billion - don't like this idea. So they set out to sneakily smear the Google tool that might have an impact on their income and unfortunately got found out. Oops. Bad Facebook.
[An interesting sidenote; Mashable recently reported that Facebook accounts for roughly 30% of all display advertising impressions in the US. Their reach and potential revenue from advertising is huge.]
Facebook hiring a PR firm to seed stories about Google's lack of care for user's privacy is a bit of pot calling the kettle black. Neither of the parties involved have a clean sheet when it comes to privacy.
Google is currently facing a US Senate hearing about why their Android mobile software tracks users' locations. Oh, and lets not forget how they 'accidentally' sent Street View cars out to harvest data from wireless networks.
Facebook aren't exactly champions for user's privacy either. There are currently over 170 different settings for Facebook privacy and 'information sharing' - and they are prone to changing without warning. The social networking site are always getting into trouble for their ideas about privacy - but then they've admitted their concept is a little different from everyone else's. Social media and privacy don't really go hand in hand but Facebook exploit that fact in order to make their money (and they're very good at it).
Mashable have today (May 13th) written an interesting piece discussing if Facebook's points about Google's Social Circle (but not necessarily their attempts in broadcasting said opinions) are valid which you can read here.
This interesting story marks the start of the battle for power between two of the biggest and wealthiest Internet giants as they battle for supremacy in Silicon Valley. Who'll win? We don't know, but judging by Facebook's tactics they're a little bit worried.