Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Facebook Stands by Google Privacy Doubts, but Says It Should Have Been More Upfront (You Think?!)

Now that Facebook’s secret PR campaign to question alleged privacy issues in Google’s “Social Circles” feature has seen the light of day, the key parties are owning up to their roles.

Facebook’s statement on the matter only allows that it should have been upfront about being the company behind the pitch:

“No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended. Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles—just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst. The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.

You and your readers can look at the feature and decide if they have approved of this collection and use of information by clicking here when their Google account is open: Of course, people who do not have Gmail accounts are still included in this collection but they have no way to view or control it.”

PR firm Burson-Marsteller says it shouldn’t have taken the assignment:

Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.

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. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.

And privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian, who posted the pitch online and whose assessment that the privacy concerns are unfounded has been widely adopted, is now implicating USA Today, saying the “gullible” publication would have published a front-page story on the matter but for him posting the pitch emails.

This hullabaloo is now more about the shady way it all came down than the actual issues, but if you’re wondering, Facebook was trying to call attention to Google’s efforts to build and display accurate depictions of people’s social connections by crawling and scraping sites such as Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Yelp and Yahoo. From the now infamous pitch:

The idea behind the feature is to scrape and mine social sites from around the web to make connections between people that wouldn’t otherwise exist and share that information with people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. All of this happens without the knowledge, consent or control of the people whose information is being shared.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.