Friday, May 13, 2011

When Rivalries Turn Nasty

Soccer fans saw it happen a couple weeks ago in the Champions League semi-final clash between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Red cards were shown, some players were ejected others took blatant dives, throwing themselves to the ground as if a sniper's bullet had just struck them in the leg. Afterwards there were numerous recriminations and accusations in the press between coaches and players alike. A bad feeling still hangs in the air between the two teams.

This week the growing rivalry between Google and Facebook took a similarly nasty turn.

A report published by the Associated Press on May 12th has revealed that Facebook hired a PR firm to try and plant damaging stories about the Internet search engine giant's privacy practices in various news outlets.

Facebook attempting to criticize another web entity's privacy practices? Comps As Humans has three words for that; pot, kettle black. You can sort out the rest.

Unfortunately for the popular social networking site the whole thing blew up when a blogger who was approached by the PR firm they hired declined to take the assignment and instead went public about the offer. Of course Facebook has since denied the whole thing, claiming that it hired the Burson-Marsteller firm merely to try and prompt an investigation into a new Google service called Social Circle and specifically as to how the service collects and utilizes user data.

Burson-Marsteller approached a number of writers, bloggers and media outlets on behalf of an unnamed "mystery client," and ultimately it was "Newsweek" tech editor Dan Lyons to unravel the fact that the firm's mystery client was indeed Facebook.

While the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid dates back for decades, the Facebook-Google rivalry has only recently emerged between the two Silicon Valley neighbors. While the two Spanish soccer sides compete over titles, trophies and players, the Internet firms compete over things like marketing data and advertising revenue as well as personnel including engineers and executives.

Is there a good guy or a bad guy in either equation you ask? Probably, although in both scenarios there have been transgressions on both sides. Real Madrid have been claiming there is a conspiracy against them in the press and exhibiting nasty behavior on the pitch. Meanwhile Barca players took blatant dives in several of the recent fixtures between the teams.

On the Web side, most Internet privacy advocates say there is little cause for concern regarding Google's Social Circle and that Facebook is just blowing smoke where there is essentially no fire. So while you might not exactly say that Google is innocent, in this case it looks to be Facebook who are stirring the pot on this one.

As to whether they will get their just deserts or bad behavior will ultimately be rewarded remains to be seen. On the soccer side of things, the two teams in question have had to settle for a share of the spoils so far this season with Madrid claiming the Spanish Cup, Barca wrapping up the La Liga title and staying in contention for the Champions League title.

Things are generally less cut and dry in the tech world where the season is year round and there are no referees to eject executives for unsporting behavior. Hmm. . . that's kind of too bad.

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