Facebook is scared of Google. That's the conclusion I- and plenty of other tech writers- have drawn from this latest scandal. The world's largest search network was caught trying to smear the world's largest search engine with bogus stories about privacy intrusions. Facebook hired a PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, to carry out the mud-slinging.
Most of the attacks were carried out through the media. Burston-Marsteller reps reached out to at least one blogger and attempted to push him into writing an anti-Google story. The focus was to be on Social Circle. Facebook wanted push the idea that Google's service was scraping private data and violating Google's agreement with the FTC. In reality, those claims had no veracity and Facebook's hired guns were unable to push their story.
But now we have hard evidence that the social network is resorting to underhanded- and seemingly desperate- tactics to break Google's back. These are not the sort of defensive actions you'd expect for a company in as powerful a position as Facebook. What do they have to fear from Google that justifies such a panicked, clumsy blow?
It's possible that this is simply Facebook ramping up their game in order to compete with Google's renewed assault on their interests. Larry Page, the new CEO, has tied up to 25% of Googler bonuses to the company's success in social media. The smear campaign could merely be Facebook's way of trying to slow Google down.
Facebook tends to receive an (understandably) poor rating in terms of their respect for user privacy. Google has a better reputation, although not a flawless one. Burston-Marsteller's plan seems to have been a long-term one, bent on reducing consumer confidence in Google. They saw the cost of last year's Buzz debacle and decided to try and recreate that with Social Circle.
Is this the End? For Burston-Marsteller, it is. They bungled this 'secret' operation as badly as it could be bungled. No one believed them, and now their employer's dirty laundry has been aired to the whole Internet. I'd suspect Facebook will terminate their contract in the near future. But that doesn't mean they're done lashing out at Google. The question isn't 'will they', but 'when will they' and how.