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Facebook denies anti-Google PR offensive was a smear campaign

Following the revelation that Facebook secretly paid a PR company to pitch anti-Google stories to journalists, the social network sent us a statement denying that it was engaged in a smear campaign.

Yesterday, we wrote that Facebook had been caught secretly paying PR firm Burson-Marsteller to pitch anti-Google stories to journalists. Today, Facebook sent us a statement denying it had been engaged in a smear campaign, claiming it was just trying to highlight an important privacy issue concerning Google's Social Circle service.

A comment attributable to a Facebook spokesperson reads: "No 'smear' campaign was authorised or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles."

"We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organisation or analyst," the statement continues.

Essentially what Facebook's saying is that it wasn't smearing Google but merely pointing out a serious concern about privacy, and that any journalist could have arrived at the same conclusions independently.

But the fact remains that Facebook secretly paid an agency to try and make those concerns known to a wider audience. Facebook's trying to paint itself as a worried citizen, but we're not convinced. It may be important that people understand the privacy implications of Social Circle, but, as a huge competitor to Google, Facebook's made itself look very shady indeed by paying an agency to ensure the matter received more attention.

Facebook admitted in the statement that it shouldn't have engaged Burson-Marsteller secretly: "The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way."

Facebook also said that it didn't want Burson-Marsteller to make it known that the PR firm was acting on the social network's behalf, because it wanted to see if people thought there was a real issue without any overtones of inter-company rivalry, and "not because we are scared of the issue or don't think it's legitimate."

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below, or on our very own Facebook wall.