The Korea Herald


Facebook-Google rivalry intensifies with PR fiasco

By 조정은

Published : May 13, 2011 - 13:20

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The intense rivalry between Facebook and Google just got juicier.

In a twist seemingly out of a Hollywood thriller, Facebook hired a prominent public relations firm to try to plant stories harshly criticizing Google's privacy practices in leading news outlets. The efforts backfired when the firm approached a blogger who not only declined the assignment, but also went public with the offer.

The latest Silicon Valley drama has also evoked chatter of smear campaigns, secrecy and even Richard Nixon. It took the once-secret blogger known as Fake Steve Jobs to help sort it all out.

One lesson: If you're going to write an incriminating email, don't. Pick up the phone instead.

Here's another:

``If you are out there planting negative stories, you are feeding the conflict,'' said Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management, a public relations company. ``When they get in a shoving match, whoever is perceived by the public to be the bully loses in the public eye.''

Rather than getting news outlets to circulate stories about privacy problems facing Google, Facebook found itself having to answer questions about why it wanted to maintain secrecy.

Facebook said it never authorized or intended to run any smear campaign against Google. Rather, the company said it hired Burson-Marsteller to prompt investigations into how a new Google service called Social Circle collects and uses data about people. In a statement, Facebook said it should have made it clear that it was behind the efforts.

Burson-Marsteller said Facebook had requested that its identity remain secret ``on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light.'' The firm said that violated its own policies, ``and the assignment on those terms should have been declined.''

Not that it was.

Facebook's efforts to stay anonymous _ something that violates the terms of service for users of its site _ began to unravel when Burson-Marsteller contacted blogger Christopher Soghoian, an Indiana University graduate student well known in online privacy and security circles.

The firm's John Mercurio asked Soghoian if he wanted to write an item for ``a top-tier media outlet'' blasting Google for what Mercurio calls a ``sweeping violation of user privacy.'' Soghoian asked for the identity of the firm's client, but Mercurio wouldn't reveal it. Soghoian then posted the email exchange online.

Burson-Marsteller, meanwhile, also pitched USA Today. Instead of running with the planted story, USA Today published an article on the ``PR firm's attack of Gmail privacy.''

It took Newsweek tech editor Dan Lyons to figure out that Burson-Marsteller's mystery client was not Apple or Microsoft, as some murmurs went, but Facebook.

Lyons, incidentally, is the writer behind The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a sharp-witted blog pretending to be written by Apple's CEO. Lyons used to go by Fake Steve Jobs, but The New York Times outed him in 2007. (The blog is on hiatus out of respect for Jobs, who is on medical leave.)

``The mess, seemingly worthy of a Nixon re-election campaign, is embarrassing for Facebook, which has struggled at times to brand itself as trustworthy. But even more so for Burson-Marsteller, a huge PR firm that has represented lots of blue-chip corporate clients in its 58-year history,'' Lyons wrote in the Daily Beast, a website owned by the same company as Newsweek.

And so, people got a rare glimpse inside Facebook's thorny relationship with Google in a story that seems more befitting to behind-the-scenes Washington politics or rival pizza joints than the sparring between two seemingly friendly tech giants.

It was also a good lesson on privacy in an age in which few things stay out of the public eye.

``Odds are that if you are writing about something controversial, or doing something controversial, someone is going to leak it,'' said Smith, the crisis-management expert.

Google and Facebook are Silicon Valley neighbors with similar scrappy roots as startups.

Over the past few years, however, they have grown more competitive. Google is dominant in advertising that accompanies search results, but Facebook has the potential to draw ad dollars with its extensive knowledge of people's interests and social circles. With little success, Google has urged Facebook to make its data more accessible to its search engine.

Facebook also has successfully lured scores of Google's engineers and executives, a key reason Google gave its staff a 10 percent raise this year.

The PR fiasco was prompted by Google's Social Circle, which is part of the company's efforts to supplement search results with content from your Facebook, Twitter and other online connections.

Facebook, no stranger to privacy mishaps, criticizes Google for collecting and storing Internet users' information without their knowledge or consent.

But even the most ardent privacy advocates are dubious Google is doing anything all that bad with Social Circle.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said there are far more pressing privacy issues. They include Google's mapping service with street-level photography and Facebook's tendency to encourage people to share more than they think they're sharing. EPIC also objects to the tracking of people's location through mobile devices.

Facebook acknowledges that it could have handled the matter better.

``The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way,'' the company said.

Google did not respond to messages for comment. Nor did Mercurio and Jim Goldman, the Burson-Marsteller employees behind the Facebook campaign. The blogger, Soghoian, confirmed the email exchange and said, ``I don't write things for other people.''

Lyons would not disclose how he figured out the identity of Burson-Marsteller's mystery client. As for Facebook's response that it didn't intend a smear campaign, he only wrote:

``I don't think there's any reason not to take them at their word, right? Oh wait.''



페이스북, 구글 '비방홍보' 발각 망신

페이스북이 은밀히 구글에 대해 '비방성' 홍보를 벌이다 사실이 드러나 망신을 당하면서 양사간 치열한 라이벌 관계가 다시 부각되고 있다.

12일(현지시각) AP통신ㆍAFP통신 등에 따르면 최근 세계적 홍보대행사인 버슨-마스텔러는 미국 내 주요 언론사 기자와 유명 블로거 등을 접촉해 구글의 사생활 침해 문제를 기사화해 달라고 요청했다.

이들이 제보한 내용은 곧 공개를 앞둔 구글의 SNS(소셜네트워크서비스) '소셜 서클'이 고객 허락 없이 페이스북, 트위터 등 타사 SNS 상의 정보를 검색한 결과를 보여줘 개인정보를 침해했다는 것.

문제는 버슨-마스텔러가 자사 고객이 누구인지 숨기고 이러한 홍보 활동을 벌였다는 점이다.

접촉 대상자 중 인터넷 사생활 문제 전문가인 블로거 크리스토퍼 소이앤이 이 홍보 활동 배후의 고객사가 누구인지 밝히라고 요구했으나 버슨-마스텔러가 응하지 않자 서로 주고받은 이메일을 인터넷에 공개하면서 이 사안이 처음 알려졌다.

이후 뉴스위크의 기술 에디터 댄 라이언스가 취재를 통해 문제의 고객사가 페이스북인 것을 밝혀냈고, 결국 이날 페이스북은 자사가 버슨-마스텔러를 고용한 것은 사실이라고 시인하기에 이르렀다.

페이스북은 다만 자사가 구글에 대한 비방 홍보를 허락하거나 의도한 것은 아니며 "사람들이 페이스북과 구글 '소셜 서클' 등 다른 서비스 계정의 정보를 수집ㆍ사용하라고 허락하지 않았다는 점을 제3자들이 확인하기를 원했을 뿐"이라고 해명했다.

또 버슨-마스텔러를 고용한 것은 "언론사나 전문가 등 제3자가 확인 가능하고 공개적으로 입수 가능한 정보를 사용해서 이 사안에 초점을 맞추기 위한 것"이었다고 덧붙였다.

그러나 페이스북이 이처럼 자사를 숨기고 '네거티브 홍보전'을 시도한 데 대해 미국PR협회 로재너 피스크 회장은 "비윤리적이고 부적절하다"고 영국 파이낸셜 타임스(FT)를 통해 지적했다.

이번 일은 페이스북의 급성장으로 인해 양사간 경쟁이 갈수록 치열해지고 있음을 보여주는 것으로, 페이스북은 작년 구글을 제치고 세계 방문자 수 1위 사이트에 올랐다.

또 최근 구글 주요 인력 중 상당수가 페이스북으로 이직하면서 구글이 전 직원 연봉 10% 인상으로 대응하기도 했으며 SNS, 소셜커머스 등 여러 분야에서 직접 충돌하면서 양사 라이벌 의식이 극에 달한 결과 페이스북이 이런 '무리수'를 뒀다는 평이 제기되고 있다.