Facebook's craftiness has backfired—again. The company just admitted it was behind a shadowy PR effort to plant negative stories about how Google is destroying your privacy.
The Daily Beast's Dan Lyons got Facebook to confess after obtaining unspecified (and apparently convincing) evidence that the social network was behind a mysterious, much-discussed PR campaign against Google. A Facebook spokesman told Lyons the company resented Google's efforts to extract Facebook data for its own competitive purposes and claimed Facebook also had genuine privacy concerns about the company's behavior.
People had been wondering who was behind the PR campaign for days, after a blogger disseminated a pitch he'd received from a Burson-Marsteller flack, asking him to write an op-ed blasting Google for supposedly violating a Federal Trade Commission agreement and for illicitly obtaining data with which to build "deeply personal dossiers on millions of users."
USA Today subsequently revealed that among the flacks shopping the story around was Jim Goldman, who was something of an Apple sockpuppet when he worked as CNBC's Silicon Valley bureau chief. Goldman, who issued glowing reports about Steve Jobs' health right up until the Apple CEO admitted he would go on medical leave, was also largely inaccurate in the story he tried to plant on Facebook's behalf, USA Today said.
Likewise, Soghoian told Lyons the flacks were trying to make a "mountain out of a molehill."
The bigger issue for Facebook, now that the company has been exposed, won't be its exaggerations, but its attempt to conduct its takedown campaign anonymously. The company already has a well earned reputation for being two faced, greedy and untrustworthy, a reputation that started in the startup's earliest days and that is renewed with alarming frequency. Facebook has been desperate to erase the bad image. The company, after all, must be trusted if it is to solicit ever more private information from its users, to get them to upload more and more pictures, chat logs and physical "check ins."
The idea of attacking Google's reputation is not, on its face, outrageous. Lord knows there are plenty of valid criticisms of the company's privacy practices; we linked just yesterday to a story about some alarming ways the company mines Gmail contacts, and did not need (or get) any prodding from a flack or any other source to do so. But if Facebook wants to raise similar criticisms, it should identify itself when doing so. Just like any common Facebook user must do when posting a humble wall comment.
[Photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at last month's "town hall" with President Obama via Getty Images. Photo of Google's headquarters via AP]