Facebook-Google 'cold war' suddenly gets hot

Surreptitious PR campaign shines spotlight on rivalry

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"They realized they needed to do battle," he added. "They just misused their weapon.... Either stop doing this kind of thing or do it well."

Both Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC, and Olds said one problem here is that Facebook executives are simply too immature and too inexperienced in business to handle this level of competition. It'll take a lot of business savvy to take down that kind of rival. And Facebook's misstep raises questions about whether co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and associates have that kind of savvy.

"To me, Facebook is too immature to be in the position it's in," said Reynolds. "It's growing too fast. It's in a spot where it's vulnerable to make stupid mistakes like this. In the past, it's made stupid mistakes exposing people's information and creating security leaks. This is less an issue of technology and more about management bringing mature judgment to growing a responsible business."

And Facebook's own privacy mistakes add another level to this whole issue.

What Facebook got caught doing was trying to seed stories in the media about Google's privacy practices. This comes from a social networking company that has had more than its share of privacy and security blunders.

"For one thing, this seems to be to deflect attention from the terrible track record Facebook has in protecting user information," said Reynolds. "This is classic the pot going down shouting that the kettle is black."

Both Reynolds and Olds noted that if Facebook wants to take its competitor down a few pegs, it needs to be careful about what flaws it's calling out.

"Facebook needs to realize they're not a teeny tiny company," said Olds. "They're too big a company to be able to get away with this kind of thing. They could have made these same points through regular communications without this skullduggery and they wouldn't have ended up in this spot. "

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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