Facebook admitted Thursday that it is behind the public relations campaign to highlight what it said were privacy concerns in Google’s “Social Circle” feature. PR giant Burson-Marsteller pitched a story to media outlets saying the feature violates Federal Trade Commission rules and does not grant users enough control over their personal data.
Google and Facebook are in a fierce competition to control the social Web, which is said to be a top Google priority.
The Daily Beast was the first to confirm the campaign’s connection to Facebook. The firm originally refused to reveal who was paying for the media push. A Facebook spokesman said that the network hired the PR firm.
“No 'smear' campaign was authorized 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—just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose,” the spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.
“We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”
Katie Watson, a Google spokeswoman, said the company is looking into Facebook’s claims.
On Monday, USA Today accused the PR firm of running a whisper campaign against Google. A May 3 tweet from security and privacy researcher Chris Soghoian was the first to call attention to the campaign and question Burson-Marsteller about who was behind it:
Google’s Social Circles is a Google Dashboard feature that aggregates publicly available content from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and integrates them into a users’ search results. The program looks at users’ address books and chat contacts, contacts directly linked to users through public social network profiles and secondary connections — friends of friends who may be on social networks.
Business Insider warned users to check their settings on these connected accounts to see if their Google profile is linked to other social networking accounts. The company makes a guess on what accounts might be owned by the same person based on similarities between user names and connections. It also gives users the option to hook the data from these accounts into its social searches.
“If your Gmail account is firstname.lastname@example.org and there’s a Twitter account out there for @gregoryanderson32, we’ll make a guess that’s you and offer you the option to connect these accounts to improve your search results,” Watson said in an e-mail.
Users must authorize the suggested profiles before the accounts are linked.
(Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook’s board of directors, and the newspaper and many Post staffers use Facebook for marketing purposes.)