Today in Facebook-land: Company Seeks Exemption From Campaign Ad Disclosures, Accused of ‘Smearing’ Google

The reception at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, CA on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Photo: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook is making headlines today. Twice.

Our friends at California Watch are reporting that the social networking site has asked the Federal Election Commission to be exempt from a law requiring that funders of political ads be disclosed as part of the advertisement. Why? They’re arguing that the ads are so small, it is impractical to include that information in the allotted space. Indeed there is precedent of exemptions where space is a concern. The article notes that bumper stickers, text messages, and buttons have similar exemptions. You can read the letter Facebook lawyers wrote to the FEC requesting the waiver on Talking Points Memo. And for more, check out Chase Davis’ article from California Watch.

The other big FB story today is a little more scandalous in nature. It’s a story straight out of Mad Men. Dan Lyons at The Daily Beast writes that Facebook hired a PR firm to start a smear campaign against Silicon Valley friend (maybe not?) and neighbor Google.

For the past few days, a mystery has been unfolding in Silicon Valley. Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.

The plot backfired when the blogger turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. It got worse when USA Today broke a story accusing Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”

But who was the mysterious unnamed client? While fingers pointed at Apple and Microsoft, The Daily Beast discovered that it’s a company nobody suspected—Facebook.

Confronted with evidence, a Facebook spokesman last night confirmed that Facebook hired Burson, citing two reasons: First, because it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, because Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.

You’ve got to read it to believe it, folks.

Emil Protalinski, a blogger at ZDNet, reached out to Facebook for a comment. That “unnamed client” they

“No ‘smear’ campaign was authorized or intended,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “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. More

As for the PR firm at the center of all this? Burson-Marsteller sent a statement to PRNewser today confirming that the “unnamed client” that hired them was the company formerly known as a dorm-room hobby, now known as the world’s most popular distraction for both millions of users and journalists everywhere. Here’s what the release said:

Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

The client 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.  Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.

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. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.

I can’t help but wonder: What would Don Draper do if he worked at Google?

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