Why Watch The Soaps When You Can Watch Google and Facebook Instead?

Melanie Gross
May 14, 2011
Updated • Jan 20, 2015

Didn’t I write recently on Facebook's general lack of privacy, intentional or otherwise? How ironic is it then that Facebook chose to attack Google on its general disrespect for personal data privacy?

This would have been bad enough, but the way that Facebook chose for its attack turns the story from just plain ridiculous to the latest plot line on the popular soap “As the Social Networks Turn.”

Facebook’s issue was with Google’s relatively unknown Social Circle. This service tracks a Gmail user’s connection to other social networks. It’s the latest play in Google’s attempt to get into the social networking business.

The story here isn’t so much what Facebook was claiming, but how they went about spreading the word. Last week, the PR firm Burson-Marsteller began emailing influential bloggers and media saying, essentially, that Google was scraping user’s data without giving the users the ability to opt out. The PR company even offered to write op eds for the bloggers, etc and submit them to popular mainstream media papers.

Privacy blogger Chris Soghoian had the wit to ask who was paying the company. Burson-Marsteller wouldn’t give that information. On Thursday, Dan Lyons for the Daily Beast broke the story that it was Facebook who paid the PR firm to spread the word.

Both Facebook and Burson-Marsteller said immediately “Yeah, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea,” or something to that effect. Facebook said it could have been more transparent, and the PR firm said that it should not have agreed to keep the identity of its client secret.

Whether this is a smear campaign or just a lack of transparency on Facebook’s part is up for debate. Certainly Facebook has a vested interest in keeping Google from developing a really good social networking solution.

The other question here is whether or not you should actually be worried about Google’s use of your personal data. The Social Circle project does indeed scrape your user data, but the data it gathers is already public. It doesn’t have access to any of the private information you share with the social networks it scrapes. One could argue that the information it’s grabbing is information you’ve already made public, and therefore there is no privacy violation here at all.

Facebook’s underhanded tactics have completely taken the spotlight away from its intended target. Whatever public outcry it expected to create against Google has been rather sidetracked by the outcry against a company that would hire a PR firm to conduct a possible smear campaign against a competitor. As I said, it’s a soap opera. Do you think they will kiss and make up next season?

What are your thoughts? Does what Google is doing with Social Circle bother you? Do you think Google is in the wrong here? What do you think of Facebook’s conduct? Was it a smear campaign, or just a poorly thought out business strategy? Do you think anything would have come of Facebook’s publicity campaign against Google, had it succeeded?


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  1. Roman ShaRP said on May 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Frankly, I don’t care. Not because I’m totally indifferent, but for now that doesn’t bother me.

  2. jeremy shoon said on May 14, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I don’t when will facebook stop this ugly strategy. It reveals an element that many analysts explain currently who proves that facebook truly knows that the competition with Google is already lost ! Facebook will never be an essential element of the web landscape. The social network is still surfing on a trend wave and will never be useful like Google can be. Moreover, the firm knows that new social networks (like Outlyf.com especially) can be more useful and could sweep facebook very quickly. That”s why Facebook uses this strategy but it s not good for the image of the website… bye bye facebook

  3. Yoav said on May 14, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Facebook has always behaved like a bully so initiating a smear campaign against a competitor seems to be quite in character for them.

  4. paulu(us) said on May 14, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Hoi Melanie (or should i say dear Mona/dear Melanie, you notice that both names are beginning with the letter m is there something in that?) after the Australian soap named Sons and daughters (from 1980) you could say i have started up main life (grown up) and never watched (or even noticed) those kind of amusement again. By the way i think that Facebook is wrong this because when there where right the would have presented some proof.

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