Facebook admits to attacking Google with secret smear campaign

Facebook's admitted it hired a PR agency to run a smear campaign against Google. Burson-Marsteller was paid by the social network to pitch privacy scare stories to journalists.

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway

Facebook's admitted it hired a PR agency to run a smear campaign against Google, in an attempt to whip up privacy fears over the search giant's services.

The agency in question is Burson-Marsteller, one of the largest PR firms in the world. Facebook asked it to approach journalists working for high-profile publications, and persuade those journalists to write panic-inducing stories about Google's Social Circle service, which blends your friends' online activity into search results -- without mentioning it was at Facebook's instigation.

In the pitch sent to journalists, Social Circle was described as "designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users".

The revelations that Facebook paid to smear Google came to light in a leaked email exchange. Burson-Marsteller told the Guardian that the job was "not at all standard operating procedure" and that the assignment from Facebook had since been terminated.

"The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light."

Facebook has admitted its part in the matter to The Daily Beast.

Our first thought is that it's ever so slightly hypocritical of Facebook to criticise Google on privacy grounds. Mark Zuckerberg's social network has faced any number of privacy scandals in the past.

There's no love lost between Google and Facebook, and the social network's attempted off-the-grid attack will certainly increase tension.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments, or on our very own Facebook page