Facebook war with Google lands Burson-Marsteller in the mire – again

WPP-owned PR giant Burson-Marsteller, headed by CEO Mark Penn, is no stranger to controversy (and worse) and its muscular attitude to helping its clients is once again in the spotlight as it’s being roundly criticised for running a smear campaign for client Facebook.

Facebook admits hiring B-M to highlight supposed flaws in Google’s privacy practices concerning the use of information on Google’s Social Circles social network site.

B-M contacted a number of journalists and privacy experts without revealing the identity of its client, not the first time it has been accused of such practices in the US.

Facebook says the PR firm should have presented the issues in a “serious and transparent” way. “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. Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose.”

It’s very hard to work out exactly what happened in cases like these. Did B-M exceed the terms of its brief or is Facebook having a convenient case of amnesia about what exactly its instructions were? B-M management says it should have declined the assignment (but of course it didn’t).

Google has yet to comment but must be quietly pleased to see someone else in the frame for data-related skullduggery.

B-M’s owner WPP might be a little alarmed too, it hardly wants to make a real enemy of Google (CEO Sir Martin Sorrell is fond of referring to Google as a ‘frenemy’).

But old habits die hard at B-M. It even has a blog bursonmarstellerwatch.com devoted to its supposed misdemeanours.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.