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How Facebook's P.R. Firm brought political trickery to Tech

SAN FRANCISCO – Da Tim Miller, a long-standing Republican political operator, moved to Bay Area last year to establish a public relations store, took on business power more typical of Washington than Silicon Valley.

He was well versed in opposition research – the pursuit of hurting the intelligence of a political enemy. He had ties to online media provocateurs. And above all he understood the value of secrecy.

Mr. Miller had come to the right moment with the firm, Definers Public Affairs. With customers and legislators questioning the good intentions and power of tech's biggest companies, Facebook and others were defensive.

Definers quickly found a lot of business, from startup like Lyft, Lime and Juul to giants like Facebook and Qualcomm, the influential chip company that was in a nasty legal battle with Apple over royalties, according to five people with direct knowledge of Mr. Miller's work who refused to be named due to confidentiality agreements.

While working for Qualcomm, Definers pushed the idea that Apple's CEO Timothy D. Cook was a viable presidential candidate in 2020, according to a former Definers employee and digital records. Probably it was an attempt to relax the cordial conditions that Mr. Cook had cultivated with the Trump administration.

The Definers campaign signaled an escalation of Silicon Valley's already brass-knocked approach to PR.

"This kind of dirty PR? It has always been there, but it's definitely on the rise," said Jonathan Hirshon, who was representing technology companies for three decades, including Apple and Sony. "Idealism is still there, but the truth is , the big companies have become much more authoritative in their approach to the media. "

Facebook kicked Defenders last week after The New York Times detailed work Mr. Miller firm had done on behalf of the social media company. journalists to write about the economic relations between anti-Facebook activists and liberal financier George Soros, claiming that they were addicted to anti-Semitic troops.

Definer's strategy played a target pressure point. Most of what Definers produced for Qualcomm had nothing to do with his steak with Apple, which was a complex legal battle over royalties Apple should pay for the Qualcomm chips as used in iPhones. 19659010] Definers employees distributed anti-Apple research to journalists and did not want to tell who paid for it. Definers distributed a 13-page note titled "Apple Bowing to Chinese Cyber ​​Regulators" which describes how Apple's activity in China opposed its public attitude towards privacy elsewhere. It also planted dozens of negative articles about Apple on conservative news sites, according to a person familiar with the work and e-mails that were reviewed by The New York Times.

Qualcomm officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The fights among the technology giant giants have barely been busy over the years. Large companies often tip journalists to bad news about other companies and encourage regulators to investigate competitors.

A Microsoft campaign, referred to as "Scroogled", highlighted what it called Google's privacy breach. From 2012 to 2014, print and television ads claimed that Google read people's email, a fee that the Internet company refused.

Google has recently been targeted with negative stories tipped to journalists by a group called Responsibility Campaign. The group was quietly funded by the database worker Oracle, who spent many years in an intellectual property court with Google over Java, a programming tool owned by Oracle.

Matt Rhoades, chief executive of definition, said in a statement that the company's work "is absolutely no different than what public affairs do every day for its customers across industries and issues across the country. We are proud of the work we do for our customers . "

Juul, who has been accused of marketing his e-cigarettes to children, works with Definers to improve his public image and communicate with journalists.

The tour company Lift used Definers to help navigate regulatory challenges in statehouses across the country, including choosing which Drivers to throw to the media for interviews, according to a person familiar with the work.

And the scooter Lime hired Defenders in August because it would have an outsider to take a more aggressive thank you to rivals, according to a person familiar with that work. Lift and glue have since finished their work with Definers.

Some of the details in Definer's relationship with technology companies, including Lift & Glue, have previously been reported by other news organizations.

Defenders have also taken on their services for Washington. It helped set up Power the Future, a pro-oil trading group, while it also worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. E.P.A. Ending the contract with Definers last year after it was revealed that a Defensive Attorney examined the agency staff critically against the Trump administration.

In order to promote clients and attack their clients' enemies, Defenders regularly used NTK Network, a conservative slant news article and 122,000 Facebook followers.

Definers and its sister company, the political opposition group America Rising, share some employees and one floor in an office building in Arlington, Va., With NTK. Joe Pounder, a veteran of Republican Presidential Campaigns, describing himself as an "opposition scientist" in his biographies, is listed as a co-founder of Defers and America Rising and editor of NTK.

Other stories were even more direct, such as one from August on Qualcomm's technology that concluded: "For Apple, the choice will be clear: doing well with Qualcomm, or offering a slower, inferior product to consumers." [19659005] Mr. Pounder said in a statement on Tuesday that NTK is regularly posted by people in the PR and media. "What NTK writes and posts is what NTK chooses to write and write," he added.

Definers also used other withdrawals to convey their work. In July 2017, Mr. Miller wrote an article that accused Mr. Cook of lying to President Trump to build Apple factories in the United States, according to an email reviewed by The Times.

He sent the subject to right provocator Charles C. Johnson, according to the email, as published it on his website GotNews without a city line or other information that it came from Mr. Miller, Defers or Qualcomm.

Mr. Miller said in a text message to The Times that Definers put the angle to a number of news. "Two years in the administration, it is clear that we were right," he added.

Herr. Johnson said he had a fall out with Mr. Miller because of Mr. Miller's criticism of Mr. Trump.

Defenders focus on Mr. Cook extended to a campaign it ran to promote the Apple boss as a 2020 presidential candidate. A narrow website entitled "Draft Tim Cook 2020" had digital links to Definers employees, "said Kyle Ehmke, cyber security researcher for ThreatConnect.

In a note published by Facebook Wednesday, Elliot Schrage, Facebook's Communications and Policy Manager, assumed responsibility for hiring Definers and said Facebook asked the PR firm to investigate whether Mr. Soros had "economic motivation" to criticize Facebook .

Mr. Schrage, a long-standing confident of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief executive, had already announced plans to leave Facebook. Mrs Sandberg, who had previously said that she did not know about Definers, admitted in a comment on the web that she had been informed about the company in e-mail and other material.

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