Facebook Behind Whisper Campaign Against Google

Facebook Behind Whisper Campaign Against Google

12th May 2011

Earlier this week I reported about a “whisper campaign” which had been set up against Google by PR Company Burson-Marsteller, trying to get media outlets to report about privacy issues around Google’s social circle and Gmail. The whisper campaign backfired at Burson-Marsteller when the story came out on USA Today.

At that time the client which had hired Burson-Marsteller to set up the campaign was unknown. We immediately thought of companies like Microsoft, Apple or Facebook. But Burson-Marsteller was smart enough to mention them too in their e-mails as being companies who were dancing around on thin ice when it comes to privacy matters. Now is revealed, and confirmed, that it was indeed Facebook that had hired Burson-Marsteller. The reason? Google tried to use Facebook data for their search results.

The story is turning into a real page turner where the next James Bond movie can get inspiration from.

The PR company tried to get outlets to write about Google because Google Social Circle was “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.” (from Dailybeast)

This however turned out to be false, which is why bloggers and outlets like USA Today decided not to publish it and spill their guts. One blogger even published the entire thread of e-mails exchanged between him and Burson-Marsteller about the topic because the PR company refused to name their client.

Facebook admits

The Dailybeast found out that in fact Facebook had issued the campaign and confronted Facebook with their evidence. Facebook admitted to be the mysterious client. A Facebook spokesman gave two reasons for their actions: Facebook really believes Google is doing wrong here and second because Google is trying to use Facebook data in its own search results and their social efforts.

From the Dailybeast:

“Facebook claims that Google is violating Facebook’s terms of service when it uses Facebook member data in that way. “We are concerned that Google may be improperly using data they have scraped about Facebook users,” the spokesman says. A Google spokeswoman reached last night said Facebook’s allegation about Google improperly using data was a new one and the company needed time to consider a response.”


The big reason behind Facebook actions seem to be simply competition: they don’t want Google to be touching their data. So they decided to attack them on a different area. Funny enough an area in which Facebook should be most careful: the privacy matter.

The big battle

So the big battle between the two online giants isn’t just being played on the front end. The back end seems to be much more important. This story will without a doubt be continued…


Claire Thompson, co-Founder of SEO PR Training and PR expert has extensive experience of digital PR having worked for some of the largest technology brands such as Apple and Fujitsu. Thompson says:

“Why on earth would an agency like Burson-Marsteller suggest that this would be a good tactic? Facebook has enough amazing stories to tell, without having to resort to dirty tricks. A privacy issue should be addressed by interaction and consultation with users as opposed to criticism of competitors.”


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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