Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters

Facebook admits hiring PR firm to target Google

Facebook has admitted hiring a PR firm to highlight supposed flaws in Google's privacy practices.

WPP owned PR firm Burson-Marstellar was hired to focus attention on the use of consumers' personal information on Google Social Circles, one of Google's less known social networking features.

It highlights the growing rivalry between Google, the world's leading search engine, and Facebook, the largest social networking site with over a half a billion users globally.

Consumer privacy, particularly around sensitive data, is a critical issue for companies who manage an increasing amount of information about their users such as credit card and social security numbers.

Burson-Marstellar contacted several journalists and privacy experts without revealing the identity of its client.

Facebook, which has taken privacy missteps of its own with users in the past, admitted it 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 said in a statement.

"Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose."

Google was not immediately available for comment.

Privacy and security analyst Christopher Soghoian was contacted earlier this month by Burson-Marstellar asking if he was interested in writing an opinion column on privacy issues related to Google Social Circles.

"What struck me as odd was that this email wasn't pitching for a company but against it," said Soghoian.

"They said if I don't have time they can write the column for me and get it into places like Huffington Post and The Hill."

Soghoian, who has advocated against both Google and Facebook for lax privacy practices posted the Burson-Marstellar email on his blog on May 3.

However it was not until after USA Today published similar emails some days later that details of the mystery client were eventually confirmed to be Facebook.

Both Google and Facebook offer free access services for the most part which rely on their users' trust.

That trust has helped Google build a business with a market value of $172 billion, while Facebook has been valued at more than $70 billion by private investors in recent weeks.

Sony has also spent several weeks dealing with a major privacy problem after its online system was hacked compromising the personal data of more than 100 million online video game users.

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