Another day, another headache for Facebook. Yesterday, the social networking site faced criticism once again for allegedly exposing personal user data by accident to advertisers and other third parties for several years.
Two security researchers at Symantec published a blog post noting that a programming error, which has since been fixed, could have allowed advertisers to access member profiles, photographs and chat messages, and mine personal data from them.
Facebook downplayed the issue and argued that Symantec’s report had a “few inaccuracies.”
On top of this, it was reported this morning that Facebook hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to run a smear campaign against search giant Google.
On May 6, USA Today reported that Burson-Marsteller had contacted a variety of news outlets on behalf of an anonymous client, pushing a story about how Google’s “Social Circle” Gmail feature violates users’ privacy. One blogger who got the posted his e-mail exchange with the PR representative.
Here’s a chunk of the email pitch:
I wanted to gauge your interest in authoring an op-ed this week for a top-tier media outlet on an important issue that I know you’re following closely. The topic: Google’s sweeping violations of user privacy. Google, as you know, has a well-known history of infringing on the privacy rights of America’s Internet users. Not a year has gone by since the founding of the company where it has not been the focus of front-page news detailing its zealous approach to gathering information — in many cases private and identifiable information — about online users.”
[Want more tips, tricks and details on Facebook privacy? Check out CIO.com’s Facebook Bible.]
You can read the entirety of the email exchange, including the blogger’s response, here.
Then today, The Daily Beast confirmed the unnamed client was none other than good ol’ Facebook. And once Facebook admitted it had, in fact, hired the PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, it issued a comment saying, “Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined.”
What a mess.
There’s been a lot of buzz (no pun intended) lately surrounding Google’s entrance into the social sphere. When Larry Page came on as Google’s CEO, he sent a memo to employees that said that part of their bonuses this year would be linked to Google’s performance in the social realm.
Since then, Google has enhanced its social search algorithm to include more results from social connections. And in March, Google introduced “+1,” a recommendation akin to Facebook’s “Like” button.
And there have also been rumors for quite some time that a Google social network said to rival that of Facebook is in the works. Google execs, however, have denied a formal social network, saying only that the company will incorporate social features into existing products. A lesson learned, perhaps, from Google Buzz.
So does Google’s latest foray into social have Facebook that worried about its place in the market? So much so that it invests time and money into one of the largest public relations firms to run a smear campaign—with questionable accusations—against Google?
Facebook’s latest folly appears childlike, silly and entirely unnecessary. Perhaps it was a meager attempt to put it out there and say, “Hey, we’re not the only ones with privacy issues.” But ultimately it was in bad taste, poorly executed and made them look foolish.
Do you think Facebook should be worried about Google playing in the social sphere? Or was this just a bad attempt to transfer the scrutiny of privacy problems?
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org