Google Silent As Media Rips Facebook Over Social Circle

Analysis: Facebook and Burson-Marstellar are still wiping the egg from their faces after trying to set Google up in the press. Google is playing the strong, silent type.

While the media echo chamber continues to rage around Facebook for its hiring of public relations firm Burson-Marstellar to engage in a smear campaign against Google over its social-data collection, the search-engine giant has remained largely silent.

While Google acknowledged seeing evidence of Facebook's stunt, it has taken the high road as it prepares its response.

eWEEK and most other media outlets covering this issue attended Google I/O with several Google executives who, no doubt, are quietly stewing even as the press happily pounds its social-network rival from down the road into submission.

Google has weathered two major privacy storms-one for Google Buzz, one for Street View-in the past year-plus to be sufficiently chastened and cautious. The last thing it wants is a new privacy snafu.

For those in the tech world who may have been living under a rock in the last 48 hours, green public relations representatives from the venerable Burson-Marstellar were caught trying to solicit disparaging coverage of Google.

Worse, they did so on behalf of Facebook, the same company that is being taken to task by Congress over a new security flaw that exposes user data, and tried to keep it on the down low.

According to The Daily Beast, Burson-Marstellar pitched bloggers and reporters a story about how Google's Social Circle trampled user privacy.

This feature of Google's Social Search product lets people with Google accounts see the Websites with which their friends and their friends of their friends are associated. The PR people argued this service infringed on users' privacy rights by scraping their personal data from other Websites without their express consent.

These secondary connections are crucial to help Google build out its own social graph, something its Google Buzz service has failed to successfully achieve at scale since its launch in February 2010. Search Engine Land detailed how this service works.

Burson-Marstellar pitched this to blogger and privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian, who as a regular critic of Google's privacy practices, actually dismissed the data-scraping practice as minor and posted the pitch online.

The pitch reads, in a serious, sober tone that Social Circle 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."

Burson added: "The 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."