In trying to plant google privacy story, did facebook have a point

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In Trying to Plant Google Privacy Story, Did Facebook Have a Point?
By battery
Dated: May 13, 2011
Facebook has admitted it authorized an effort to raise privacy concerns about a Google product, but says it
was not intended as a smear campaign.

Facebook has admitted it authorized an effort to raise privacy concerns about a Google product, but says it
was not intended as a smear campaign.
The social networking giant released a statement acknowledging that it hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to
alert the media about the questionable use of Facebook user information in a little-known Google feature
called Google Social Search.
The feature pulls in publicly available data about users from social networks, including Facebook and
Twitter, and displays it in the search results of your social connections — often without their direct
Unsavory emails sent to reporters have since surfaced, deeply embarrassing both Facebook and
"Google, as you know, has a well-known history of infringing on the privacy rights of America's Internet
users," a representative wrote in an email to one targeted blogger, Chris Soghoian. " latest tool designed to
scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users –- in a direct and flagrant
violation of its agreement with the FTC."
Embarrassment escalated after USA Today and then The Daily Beast published stories about the agency's
While Facebook refuses to say that it took part in a "smear campaign," the company admits that it "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 (Dell inspiron 6400 battery)
— just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose," a spokesperson said in an
emailed statement to Mashable.
"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."
Burson-Marsteller has been quick to do a little crisis management of its own, telling Cnet in an emailed
statement that an anonymous smear campaign "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."
Why Facebook's Concerns Are Valid
Although the PR campaign clearly backfired, Facebook does raise some valid concerns about Google's
social search product.
Social search, which was launched in October 2009, provides search results with data aggregated from
your social graph. Search for a particular restaurant, for instance, and social search might pull up a tweet
from someone you follow noting that she ate there recently and didn't enjoy the food.
To display this information, Google requires an indexable understanding of your social graph, which
Google calls "social connections." The company builds social connections for users by gathering
information about your Google contacts and chat buddies, from information and accounts connected to your
Google Profile, and through secondary connections.
Google Profiles generally provide most of this information, as many Google users have set up a Google
Profile that links to their accounts on social services such as Flickr, Twitter, Blogger and Quora, just as they
might also have done on a service like Although Google doesn't allow users to connect their
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Facebook accounts to their Google Profiles, users can still enter a link to the URL of their public Facebook
Pages or private profiles, which Google can scrape to display information such as status updates and photos
that a user has authorized to display publicly.
The problem that Facebook is pointing out is that even if a user doesn't explicitly link their Facebook
account on their Google Profile, Google can still display his or her public Facebook information.
The way that Google does this is clever, legal and a little unnerving.
Google is able to crawl accounts to surface secondary social connections. For instance, my colleague
Christina Warren has put up a link to her personal website on her Google Profile. Because her website
displays a link to her MySpace account, information displayed on her MySpace page might unwittingly
appear in the social search results of someone who follows her on Twitter.

Similarly, Google can index her public Facebook status updates even if she doesn't directly post a link to
her Facebook account on her Google Profile. If, for instance, she posted a link to her Quora account, which
she signed up with using her Facebook credentials, Google could go ahead and pull in all of her public
Facebook statups updates anyways.
This is, to be clear, in no way illegal. Google isn't surfacing any information that isn't in some way public.
Users could conceivably use their own skills to find these links manually, but Google has just automated
the process. The problem is that users aren't being properly informed about how Google is making their
social data public. Publicly available information and information that can be surfaced at a moment's notice
by someone you know are two different things.
We admit we were surprised by how much information Google knew about our social graph through
accounts we'd linked together indirectly. I have always been vaguely aware that Google knows essentially
everything about me, but knowing that anyone can look through my various social connections and
networks associated with my name from my personal email address is still a bit of a shock.
Is Facebook Really Concerned About Our Privacy?
So is Facebook really worried about its users' privacy? Our instincts say no. After all, the only Facebook
information that can appear in Google's search results are those that are public status updates (Dell d630
battery). If Facebook encouraged users to lock down their accounts, they could limit the usefulness of
Google's data-mining efforts.
It's more likely that Facebook is annoyed that Google has figured out how to use its data without
employing its API, so preventing Facebook from controlling how users' data can be used. Google is selling
ads against data that it is pulling from Facebook, putting it directly with Facebook's own ad network.
How the Campaign Backfired
A few weeks ago, Burson-Marsteller reps began contacting various reporters, encouraging them to
investigate how a Google feature called Social Circles (used in Google Social Search) has been quietly
violating the privacy of millions of Americans. One of the bloggers, Chris Soghoian, was asked to ghost
write a post on the topic. Instead he published several of those emails.
When Soghoian asked who was paying for this campaign, the Burson representative refused to name the
client. Concerns were further raised when USA Today published a story saying that the firm had begun
targeting "top-tier media outlets" with the same kind of pitches.
On Wednesday night, The Daily Beast published a story identifying Facebook as the agent behind the
smear campaign, which a Facebook spokesperson admitted to.
Clearly, Facebook never should have hired a PR agency to "raise awareness" about this issue. Facebook
itself has a reputation for disregarding users' privacy concerns. Calling out Google for doing the same is the
pot calling the kettle black.
After all, if it is really concerned about the privacy of its users' data, Facebook should educate its users on
how to hide their account information from Google.

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