Facebook officially goes to Washington

Since at least 2009, Facebook has kept an office here in Your Nation’s Capital, but the company became an official part of the DC community this week when their PR consultant got caught trying to recruit bloggers to write anti-Google stories.

As consulting snafus go, this is pretty mild – especially when a reading of the original emails suggests that the PR consultant was not doing anything wrong, underhanded, or illegal.  This isn’t Jack Bonner’s “contractors” cooking up fake letters, it’s a PR person recruiting someone to sign an op-ed – in other words, exactly what they are paid to do.

The problem is they asked the wrong person.  Sure, Chris Soghoian lists himself as a “security and privacy” researcher.  But the name of his blog is “Slight Paranoia.”  That’s the type of blogger who asks questions about why you’re barking up his tree and encouraging him to take a public stance against Google.

The situation highlights how  trying to wage public affairs battles anonymously can backfire.  Clearly, Facebook wanted to sling mud without getting their hands dirty.  But they had a legitimate point about Google and privacy.  Google collects an enormous amount of information on people, many times without users understanding how they are sending that information.  People have had beefs with Facebook on privacy, but the information you put out on Facebook is information you actively put on the internet; if the world suddenly knows you like My Little Pony and Elmer’s Glue it’s because you signed up for a Facebook account and clicked “like” on those pages, you sick, pathetic degenerate.

Facebook isn’t the only big player going after Google; both MicroSoft and AT&T have put big money into public policy campaigns taking shots at everything from privacy to intellectual property.

Like those other companies and many others in all kinds of industries, though, Facebook figured out that the government’s activities could impact their business.  Because they tried (through their PR agent) to get too cute, Facebook’s message on privacy is obscured because of a tactical misstep.

Welcome to Washington.

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