Facebook Denies 'Smear' Campaign Against Google

ABC News (PALO ALTO, Calif.) -- The competition between the Internet's biggest rivals is turning bitter. After news reports earlier this week that the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller was pushing reporters to write negative stories about Google and alleged privacy violations, The Daily Beast reported Thursday that Facebook was the mystery client behind what it called a "clumsy smear" campaign.

The news website said Facebook hired the public relations firm to get people upset about a Google feature called Social Circle, which lets Gmail users see information about their friends -- and friends of their friends. But the tactic backfired when a blogger approached by Burson-Marsteller concluded that Google Social Circle wasn't so sinister after all and published his entire email exchange with the publicist. In the emails, a Burson-Marsteller staffer offered to help the blogger write an op-ed piece for a major news outlet.

In a statement, Facebook backed off charges of a sneaky strategy.

"No 'smear' campaign was authorized or intended. 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," a spokesman said. "The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way."

In emails published by Christopher Soghoian, the blogger approached by Burson-Marsteller, a publicist says Google is "not only violating the personal privacy rights of millions of Americans, they are also infringing on the privacy rules and rights of hundreds of companies."

The publicist also offers to "assist in the drafting" of the op-ed and target the Washington Post, Politico and other high-profile media outlets.

In a statement, Burson-Marsteller confirmed that Facebook was the client behind the Google campaign and said Facebook wanted to withhold its name from the media because it was "merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media."

Still, the firm said its actions were "not at all standard operating procedure" and that they should have declined the assignment on those terms.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Markets Recover after Wednesday's Losses

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The markets had a slippery start but finished the session in positive territories Thursday.  Stocks tracked the performance of commodities, including the price of oil.

The Dow closed  up 66 points, the Nasdaq added 18 and the S&P gained 7 points Thursday.

Crude rose five cents to close at just under $99 a barrel.  Several private surveys say the national average of gasoline is $3.96 a gallon, up from just under $3.

Democrats say the pain at the pump is reason to put an end to the tax breaks that big oil gets. Thursday, the CEOs of five of the largest and most profitable oil companies testified at a Senate hearing. They say they don't want special treatment, rather the benefits that other industries get.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Foreclosure Activity Fell 9% in April; Lowest Point in Three Years

ABC News(IRVINE, Calif.) -- The rate of foreclosure filings in the U.S. dropped to the lowest point in three years last month, according to the latest report released Thursday by RealtyTrac.

The listing firm said foreclosure activity decreased by 9 percent in April compared to March.  The latest figure is also down 34 percent from the same time last year.

The lower drop in filings is not necessarily reflective of an improved housing market or stronger economy.  Mortgage lenders have come under increased scrutiny, which has drowned out the foreclosure progress.  Banks are now taking a lot longer to seize homes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wholesale Prices Up in April on Increased Fuel Costs

Medioimages/Photodisc(WASHINGTON) -- Companies paid more for raw materials and factory goods in April. The Labor Department says the wholesale price index rose .8 percent. The rate has gone up nearly seven percent over the past year, much larger than the rise in consumer prices. The major cause has been more expensive fuel. Since April, oil and gasoline futures have fallen and if that trend holds it would reduce the pressure on inflation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What’s In Your Gas? Energy Officials Conduct Surprise Inspections

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- The average price of a gallon of gasoline now stands at $3.96 a gallon, according to the latest Department of Energy numbers, so imagine not getting what you pay for. ABC News went along with Maryland inspectors as they conducted surprise inspections at the pump.

First and foremost, the Maryland comptroller's office tests to see if the gasoline is the correct octane level. Inspectors also look for contaminants, like diesel, sediment and water in the gas. Much of the fuel these days is a blend of gasoline and ethanol and if even a few drops of water get into it, it will separate. If you put that in your car, it will stall and could even ruin the engine.

The first station the inspector visits passes on all accounts. The second is a different story. The premium sample from the pump isn't 93 octane like it should be. So the inspector draws a sample straight from the underground tank. It fails, too.

Maryland's state of the art fuel testing laboratory provides the official verdict.  "It is a fail," Mark Brandenburg of the Maryland Comptroller's Office said. The pricey premium gas that's supposed to be 93 octane is actually only 90.5 octane.

"When the economy is as bad as it is, see the gas prices rising, the food prices rising, everyone is very sensitive to whether they are getting a short end of the stick," Peter Franchot, comptroller of Maryland, told ABC News.

In this particular case, the inspector returned to the station and ordered it to stop selling premium. The station blamed the supplier.

The Maryland Comptroller's Office has one of the most aggressive fuel-testing programs in the country.

Only 40 of the 50 states perform surprise inspections. Here are the 10 states that do not yet have a program in place to test the octane level and purity of gasoline:

  • Hawaii
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jobless Claims Fall 44,000 in First Week of May

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After showing an increase for two consecutive weeks, claims for unemployment benefits fell in the first week of May, according to the Labor Department's latest report released Thursday.

For the week ending May 7, the department said claims dropped by 44,000 to 434,000.  The previous week, claims stood at 478,000.

The four-week average, however, rose slightly to 436,750, a jump of 4,500 from the previous week's average of 432,250.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Flooding Concerns Impact Oil Refineries in Gulf Coast

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW ORLEANS) -- The oil industry is watching the Mississippi River flooding closely amid fears that key oil refineries may be disrupted, possibly causing gasoline shortages and price spikes.

About half of the nation's oil refinery capacity is concentrated in the Gulf Coast region, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston, said only one refinery, run by Alon USA Energy in Krotz Springs, Louisiana, is at risk for flooding in the next seven days.  And that's only if the Army Corps of Engineers decides to open a spillway from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest, or reach its highest level, in New Orleans on May 24, when the refineries could be at most risk, Lipow said.

A spokesman for Alon, Blake Lewis, said operations at Krotz Springs Refinery are "running normally."

"Refinery personnel are continuing to monitor conditions on the Atchafalaya River and will adjust operations, if needed," Lewis said.

Oil prices have been on a rollercoaster ride, mostly in the up direction for the past year. On Wednesday, crude dropped 5.5 percent to below $100 a barrel after a government report showed stockpiles increased as drivers have cut back on trips.  Still, oil is up almost 30 percent from a year ago and any disruption at the refineries is likely to cause another price spike at the pumps.

Lipow said the likelihood that any of the refineries will be flooded is "rather small."  Even when the river crests, he anticipates that the waters will still be held in the river system.

There are 11 refineries along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, comprising 13 percent of U.S. output.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Save Big on Your Next Grocery Bill

Jupiterimages/Pixland(NEW YORK) -- The price of many food products has been going up, and with the recent severe storms in much of the farm belt, prices could go even higher.

So how can you save some money on food?

Coupons are one way, but there are many others.  Take for instance, making your own pasta sauce.

Retail expert Phil Lempert says he seeing people "buying domestically grown tomatoes like Hunts crushed tomatoes," which are just a fraction of the cost, "instead of buying jarred pasta sauce for $6, $7, $8."

Consumers can also save some green by trying store brands.  They are often a lot cheaper and offer the same ingredients.

"If you're going to to go to the store brands keep in mind that store brands are 100 percent guaranteed money back, so if you don't like it bring it back to the store," says Lempert.

Another tip: try eating smaller portions.  You'll waste less money and could lose some weight in the process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nabisco's Latest Breakthrough: 'Triple Double Oreo' 

Joe Raedle/Getty Image(NEW YORK) -- Cookie Monster would get a kick out of this one.

Nabisco says it’s working on a new cookie sandwich -- a revamped version of its classic Oreo -- that would add a second layer of cream, topped off with a third cookie.

An apparent breakthrough in cookie technology, the "Triple Double Oreo" will reportedly hit store shelves in time for summer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Microsoft-Skype Deal: What Can Consumers Expect?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- What does Microsoft need to do to keep Skype customers happy? Nothing at all.

Microsoft announced plans Tuesday to buy the popular phone service in an $8.5 billion deal. The marriage would bring Skype's 170 million connected users to Microsoft's empire of business and consumer tech services and products.

Analysts say much of the Internet phone company's value lies in its wide customer base and Microsoft would do well to keep users' experience unchanged.

If all goes according to plan, Skype's video chat services will be integrated with Microsoft's Outlook, Messenger, Hotmail, Xbox Live and Lync platforms, the companies said.

For those worried that Microsoft will pester Skype users with unwanted ads or other intrusive tactics, experts say Microsoft's big bank account means that monetization isn't an immediate necessity.

Skype services might also turn up on Facebook, industry watchers say. Facebook and Microsoft already have a partnership, including a Microsoft investment in the social network. It's possible that Facebook Connect (the platform that lets third parties integrate with the social network) could be used to find contacts and place Skype calls, Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of, said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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