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Facebook and Google in PR row

Boys! Boys! This is getting unseemly. Facebook and Google have been getting more, how shall we say, competitive for a while now: Facebook has palled up with Google’s arch-rival, Microsoft’s Bing, for search; its Chat service competes directly with Google’s Talk, its Messages upgrade last year took aim at Gmail, and it’s become very adept at hiring some of Google’s best people. Google hasn’t been averse to a bit of aggression either - it blocked Facebook from searching users’ Gmail contacts to find friends, saying they weren’t prepared to share data with a service that doesn’t let it be easily exported. (That was the excuse, at least.)

But this is really nasty. A few days ago an American tech blogger began getting pestered by a PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, to write a piece about a worrying new Google project, social circle. Google, it was alleged, was scanning user’s emails from sites like Facebook to work out who their friends were to build new social services.

The journalist, Chris Soghoian, was a bit suspicious, and published the emails he’d received from the PR firm. Then, to cut a long story short, a mild controversy blew up - at the end of which the PR firm admitted that they’d been hired by a client to seed the Google story. The client? Facebook.

Now, this might not really be a ‘smear’ - the Google project does appear to be real - but it certainly looks like sleazy skullduggery - why didn’t Facebook just make its concerns known publicly? Google, for their part, are at the ‘no comment’ phase, while the PR firm has apologised. Whatever went on to produce this sordid interlude, it certainly marks a low point in the relationship between the two internet giants - one that we’re sure’ll only worsen once Google release their social product later this year.

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