Facebook has been unmasked as the villain in a Silicon Valley who-dunnit worthy of any gumshoe detective novel.
The story began when it emerged PR firm Burson–Marsteller had been hired to pitch a campaign of negative stories against that other pantomime villain, Google.
Burson reportedly pitched to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims of privacy invasion by Google, which to be fair is no shrouded mystery in itself, as well as offering to help an influential blogger lay into the search firm, promising access to high profile publications like the Washington Post.
Instead, the blogger chose to post the email Burson, with USA Today breaking a story about a whisper campaign from an “unnamed client”.
But who could this mystery client be?
The grand Scooby-Doo style unmasking showed that it was none other than the young upstart rival to Google’s world-conquering throne, Facebook.
According to The Daily Beast, which solved the conundrum of the mysterious client, while Facebook appeared to be pursuing somewhat admirable aims in trying to highlight Google’s privacy problems, the main reason for the subterfuge was good old fashioned corporate greed.
Burson allegedly pitched against Google’s Social Circle social networking tool. It allows Gmail users to see info of friends, and friends of friends. The pitch went that it is “designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users—in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google's] agreement with the FTC.”
The PR firm, seemingly on a moral crusade, allegedly said: “American people must be made aware of the now immediate intrusions into their deeply personal lives Google is cataloging and broadcasting every minute of every day—without their permission.”
Of course they could have just pointed to the rather well known Street View palaver, and indeed one of the bloggers approached to write up some anti-Google content dismissed it as “making a mountain out of molehill”. USA Today concluded the claims were exaggerated.
Eventually both Burson and Facebook admitted to their involvement, with a spokesperson confessing it was “concerned that Google may be improperly using data they have scraped about Facebook users”.
The PR firm's CEO had been a political consultant to Bill Clinton and chief strategist to his wife in her 2008 election drive.
According to the Daily Beast, it appears that Google’s Social Circle draws on content used on Facebook. With the growing rivalry between the two firms over online advertising revenue, Facebook, fast on the heels of the search giant, is resorting to slightly underhand methods.
With this rivalry set to continue, as Facebook’s meteoric rise shows no signs of abating, we can only hope that such devious and shady techniques are a mere sign of things to come between the two behemoths.