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?
Advertising revenue is falling fast across the Internet, and independently-run sites like Ghacks are hit hardest by it. The advertising model in its current form is coming to an end, and we have to find other ways to continue operating this site.
We are committed to keeping our content free and independent, which means no paywalls, no sponsored posts, no annoying ad formats (video ads) or subscription fees.
If you like our content, and would like to help, please consider making a contribution:
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.