Industry black eye? High-profile PR pros busted spreading fake Google story

A blogger and USA Today revealed a whisper campaign by two journalists turned Burson-Marsteller employees. Question is: For whom were they working?

Top-five PR firm Burson-Marsteller (BM) is taking on Google—Gmail, specifically—accusing the Web giant of violating users’ privacy. In the process, however, the firm is raising some eyebrows over its attempts to get the word out.

BM is going after Gmail’s Social Circle, a feature that most Gmail users probably don’t know exists, but which BM says “tramples the privacy of millions of Americans and violates federal fair trade rules,” according to a recent USA Today article.

The PR firm is spreading the word about Social Circle reportedly on behalf of a client. The USA Today article said that current BM reps—former CNBC news anchor Jim Goldman and former political columnist John Mercurio—started a “whisper campaign” suggesting the Social Circle issue is a consumer interest story.

The timing is impeccable, as Google prepares to appear at a U.S. Senate hearing over the location-tracking in its Android smartphones.

In addition to contacting traditional media outlets, the BM reps reached out to Christopher Soghoian, a former FTC researcher and blogger. In a series of emails, Mercurio offered to ghost-write a post on Social Circle and help Soghoian place the column in The Washington Post, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call, or the Huffington Post.

Soghoian published the exchange on the Web, as Goldman was pitching USA Today.

The pitch from Goldman to USA Today proved “largely untrue,” the paper reported. When USA Today tried reaching out to Goldman, he declined to comment.

In a word: busted.

The only bit of missing info here is the mystery client—the potential list is as long as the list of companies who view Google, in any way, as a competitor.


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