Web giant says it is ‘mortified’ to learn that people working for it used Mocality’s data in attempt to sell competing product
guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 January 2012 19.21 GMT
Google has admitted people working for it ‘improperly’ accessed Kenyan rival Mocality’s database
Google has confessed that a number of people working for it “improperly” accessed the customer database of a rival company in Kenya to boost its own business.
The US search giant said it was “mortified” to learn that staff illicitly entered the business directory of a Kenyan listings firm, called Mocality, in an attempt to sell a competing product to the rival’s customers.
The allegations were first made public in a blogpost on Friday by the chief executive of Mocality, Stefan Magdalinski, who accused Google of “telling untruths” and a “human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent … attempt to undermine our business”.
Magdalinski claimed to have unearthed the alleged malpractice almost immediately after Google launched a rival initiative in the country, dubbed “Getting Kenyan Businesses Online”.
Google said it immediately began investigating the accusations, which it described as “very serious”. In a statement published late on Friday, the search giant confessed that some of its employees had been acting improperly.
“We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites,” said Nelson Mattos, vice-president for product and engineering in Europe and emerging markets, in a statement.
“We’ve already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. We’re still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we’ll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved.”
It is not yet known whether the people involved are Google employees or contractors working on the company’s behalf.
Google’s new service offered to help Kenyan businesses build a website. In contrast, Mocality only offers to list about 170,000 Kenyan businesses.
According to Magdalinski, suspicions were raised after Mocality started receiving calls from businesses on its directory asking how they shoud go about setting up a website – which Mocality has never offered.
Mocality then set up what it described as a “sting” operation, changing some of the telephone numbers in its business directory to the contact details of its own call centre.
“When we listened to the calls, we were beyond astonished,” said Magdalinski.
Mocality secretly recorded Google employees offering to build a website for the businesses and, in one case, falsely claiming that Mocality would charge to list its business.
“Since October, Google appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners,” Magdalinski wrote in the blogpost. “They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so.
“I did not expect to find a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent (falsely claiming to be collaborating with us, and worse) attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on two continents.”