Facebook's failed Google smear: Stupidity squared

Facebook's ham-handed attempt to secretly tarnish Google's reputation sets a new standard in corporate stupidity

In the universe of things that are not very bright, there are three basic categories: stupid, really stupid, and how-do-you-even-manage-to-get-your-pants-on-every-morning stupid. Now there's a fourth category: Facebook stupid.

The world's largest social network earned this sobriquet via its shocking-yet-laughable attempts to launch a smear campaign against Google.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Check out Cringely's account of an earlier tussle between Facebook and Google over -- what else? -- your data. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

As revealed by The Daily Beast's Dan Lyons (the artist formerly known as Fake Steve Jobs), Facebook engaged a high-powered PR firm, Burson-Marsteller ("BM" for short -- insert juvenile joke here), to spread gross distortions about Google and its Social Circles service.

Apparently, Social Circles -- which identifies other online networks where your Gmail contacts tend to congregate -- violates one's personal privacy. Note: This is coming from Facebook, which itself values personal privacy the way a shark values a school of minnows.

There's so much stupidity in the air it's hard to know where to start. But let's begin with Jim Goldman and John Mercurio, two former reporters who recently signed on with BM and were tasked with the mission of secretly stirring up negative news coverage about Google.

These two bumbling simpletons ("BS" for short -- go on, get it out of your system) approached several news organizations with the inside story of how Google's Social Circles -- which is nearly two years old and used by approximately 12 people -- 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."

But Goldman and Mercurio made the mistake of approaching security analyst and frequent Google critic Chris Sogohian with this piece of trumped-up garbage. They even offered to ghostwrite a piece exposing Google's evil deeds, slap Sogohian's name on it, and place it in the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, or a similarly high-profile venue.

Sogohian's first reaction was, quite naturally, to ask who was paying them to do this. The BM/BSers said they were not at liberty to say. Sogohian's second reaction was to post the email exchange on the Web. He then issued this tweet:

Just pitched by PR firm wanting ghostwrite an anti-Google op-ed for me. I am quite capable of authoring my own anti-Google stuff, thank you.

There the matter sat until earlier this week, when USA Today published a story about the slander campaign, without knowing who was behind it. But according to Sogohian, USA Today very nearly went public with the story BM was pushing, until it stumbled across the emails Sogohian posted:

USA Today ... [was] basically in the very last stage of having a front-page story ready to go, based on the letter from Burson-Marsteller. At the last minute they saw the email exchange I posted, and realized they had been bamboozled. Privacy makes headlines these days. If this story had been pitched to the WSJ, they would have laughed in their faces, but USA Today was a little more gullible.

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