Reading the Times: Facebook and Google with Egg On Their Faces

Reading the Times: Facebook and Google with Egg On Their Faces May 16, 2011

According to recent articles in the New York Times, Facebook and Google have egg-covered faces. Both digital giants, it seems, have been acting in ways that contradict their own pledges and policies.

Facebook, Foe of Anonymity, is Forced to Explain a Secret

According to Miguel Helft, Facebook, which prides itself on openness, has been engaged in a secret campaign to discredit Google. Here’s how the article begins:

Mark Zuckerberg

For years, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, has extolled the virtue of transparency, and he built Facebook accordingly. The social network requires people to use their real identity in large part because Mr. Zuckerberg says he believes that people behave better — and society will be better — if they cannot cloak their words or actions in anonymity.

“Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” Mr. Zuckerberg has said.

Now, Facebook is being taken to task for trying to conceal its own identity as it sought to coax reporters and technology experts to write critical stories about the privacy implications of a search feature, Social Circle, from its rival, Google.

The plan backfired after The Daily Beast revealed late Wednesday that Facebook, whose own privacy practices have long been criticized, was behind the effort. It didn’t help that some of the technology experts who were encouraged to criticize Google dismissed the privacy concerns around Social Circle as misplaced.

“Doing this anonymously is an obvious contradiction of Facebook’s oft-stated values,” said David Kirkpatrick, the author of “The Facebook Effect,” a book about the company. “It feels hypocritical.”

Google is Said to Have Broken Internal Rules on Drug Ads

Claire Cain Miller reports:

Google allowed rogue online pharmacies to advertise on its site in violation of its own advertising policies, according to one of the companies subpoenaed in the federal investigation of Google’s drug ad sales.

The investigation, which Google has set aside $500 million to settle, concerns whether Google illegally displayed ads from online pharmacies that operate outside the law by selling counterfeit drugs or by not requiring a prescription.

Notice that this has been alleged, not proved.

Some Thoughts

• Saying one thing and doing another is never a good idea. You can lose credibility and trust that way. In the age of the Internet, trust is a priceless commodity.

• Any organization faces a challenge when trying to get all of its members to act according to its core values and established rules. Inconsistent behavior by a few rogue members can be very costly.

• Facebook’s response to the revelation of its secret plan has been weak and unconvincing. Sometimes a solid “We were wrong” can clear the air.

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