All is fair in love and war, they say, to justify winning through any means. Facebook has been playing the game for a while, and not always with the best intentions. At war with Google, the company reportedly hired Burson-Marstellar to plant stories criticizing Google’s privacy practices. In other words, Facebook paid a PR company to smear its main competitor’s use of personal information on Social Circles, Google’s own social network.
When the news of Facebook’s little Machiavellian endeavor surfaced, the world (including the media that published the articles against Google) protested vehemently against such practices, using some of the most interesting terminology to describe it, including “furtive and creepy” and calling the PRs involved in the campaign “shadowy, backstreet spin merchants.”
For those who have never heard of Burson-Marstellar before this incident, this is a “global public relations and communications firm with offices and affiliate partners in 81 countries” founded by Harold Burson in 1946. The company must be getting pretty desperate for attention, as this little trick played against Google goes against the company’s own ethics and code of business.
“Burson-Marsteller’s reputation is founded on adherence to these principles and values. All actions taken by a Burson-Marsteller employee member should conform to the WPP Code of Business Conduct.” A very interesting stipulation of this code states that: Burson-Marsteller will not undertake work which is intended or designed to mislead, including in relation to social, environmental and human rights issues.
The mistake is that Burson-Marstellar contacted journalists without revealing the identity of its client. This presented even Facebook in a shady light, when apparently the company required the PRs to presented the issues in a “serious and transparent” way. Facebook denied that they paid for a smear campaign:
“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 company said in a statement.
This is what happens when “noble” intentions go wrong. Facebook should have never hired a PR company to attack its competitor in the first place. If Google was using Facebook date on its own social network, the mater should have been settled in court. Instead, Facebook is now regarded, more than ever, as a Machiavellian player.