The world of PR is a strange one. Some might think it is nothing more than sending out a few press releases. It however is a lot more than that. And it also has a dark side to it. PR agencies also are very well versed in lobbying. Trying to get politicians to vote a specific way or trying to get journalists to write about a specific topic. Now that sometimes can get into a grey area. Because the ways to get people to vote or write in a specific direction differ very much.
PR company Burson-Marsteller doesn’t have the best name in the market when it comes to campaigns like this. And it now seems as if they tried to ‘nail’ Google on privacy matters using a so called “whisper campaign” (Wikipedia: “a method of persuasion in which damaging rumors or innuendo are spread about the target”). They tried to get several top media outlets in the US to write news stories and editorials about how Google was invading privacy from Americans using their Social Circle features.
USA Today reports that they were amongst the media outlets which were approached by Burson-Marsteller. Two high level employees from Burson-Marsteller were used to try and get the newspaper to write about privacy breaches from Google. They started lobbying with newspapers trying to get technology journalists to write about Social Circle and the fact that GMail users were in danger because Google lets them make social connections based on the information they shared, both publicly and with Gmail. They offered to ghost write columns, and offered journalists to help them get their stories published in other major newspapers.
The PR campaign was set up during a week in which Google was also responding to privacy issues in South Korea and was preparing for the Senate hearing over the location-tracking feature in Android smartphones, USAToday says.
USA Today did research to the claims of the PR company and found them to be largely untrue. They then decided not to run the story and informed Google.
Chris Gaither, Google’s senior manager of global communications and public affairs said:
“We have seen this e-mail reportedly sent by a representative of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, we’re not going to comment further. Our focus is on delighting people with great products.”
For now it is unclear which of Burson-Marsteller’s clients had commissioned this. The first thoughts were Microsoft or Facebook, but both of them were also named, together with Apple, in the e-mails Burson-Marsteller sent, saying they were also in dangerous areas. But then again, that could also have been a distraction.
Still it is fascinating to see how this works. Another reason for everybody to look closely at what is being said, and think of why something is being said. Also, Google does have privacy issues which should be looked at, but so do Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Maybe it is time to get that discussion sorted out, because it is hanging above the online industry for a while now.