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

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

It appears there's more than enough stupidity to go around.

Until Lyons's story, there was much speculation about who might be behind the smear campaign. After Lyons's story hit the blogosphere, BM issued the following statement, which reads in part:

[Facebook] 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. ... 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.

In other words, BM was fine with a smear campaign based on flimsy evidence and overamped allegations, so long as it was allowed to reveal the name of the company that was bankrolling it -- nice.

I asked Facebook to comment on this mess. Here's what the rep said, in full:

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: http://www.google.com/s2/search/social. 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.

Translation: Despite having been thoroughly embarrassed, Facebook is still doggedly trying to push this idea forward.

By and large, PR companies toss so much manure in the general direction of journalists, they should use pitchforks instead of email. It's why we journo types are so cynical (not because mommy or our editors don't love us). But they rarely go negative in quite the way BM and Facebook did, especially in such a pathetic and desperate fashion.

Here's a little advice for Facebook and BM: If you're going to toss serious charges at another company, try not to insult the intelligence of the people you're hoping to persuade. You might want to remember other people know how to use the Interwebs too and can figure out for themselves whether Google Social Circles is the biggest threat to personal privacy since, well, Facebook.

Or maybe just shutting up would be a better strategy. As the old saying goes, it's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and prove it.

Are any other companies out there "Facebook stupid"? Nominate your candidates below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Facebook's failed Google smear: Stupidity squared," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2