Google says it has apologized to Mocality, a local search directory in Kenya, for scraping Mocality’s database of businesses and lying about its relationship with Mocality when contacting those businesses.
Mocality laid out its evidence against Google in a blog post today, accusing Google of scraping its local business listings, contacting local businesses in an attempt to get them to sign-up to Google’s “Getting Kenyan Businesses Online” program, and telling those businesses that Google and Mocality are working together — which wasn’t the case. Mocality investigated the IP addresses that were scraping its listings and later recorded phone calls that the Google program thought were being made to business owners.
In a statement today, first reported by paidContent and also shared with Marketing Land (and also posted on Google+), Google’s Nelson Mattos, Vice-President for Product and Engineering, Europe and Emerging Markets, said Google was “mortified” to learn what happened and has apologized to Mocality:
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.
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.
The statement doesn’t specifically say that Google itself was doing the scraping and attempting to contact Mocality’s customers. By saying “a team of people working on a Google project,” Google keeps open the possibility of placing responsibility for the incident on third party contractors — which is similar to what happened last week when Google said that ad agencies were responsible for a poorly-executed sponsored blog post campaign for Google Chrome.
Google has been aggressively trying to help small businesses get online around the world with its Get Your Business Online program. It typically offers the small business a free website, free domain name and other marketing help. The freebies are good for a year, and then involve a nominal fee after that. As part of the program, Google also typically offers a free AdWords credit, which speaks at least somewhat to Google’s overall motives with the program.
This Kenya/Mocality incident caps what’s been a very difficult two weeks to start the year for Google. Google was caught in the aforementioned Google Chrome sponsored blog posts mess right after the new year, and this week’s launch of Search, Plus Your World has led to criticism from Twitter and others, not to mention requests for an FTC investigation.
As Greg Sterling wrote this morning on Search Engine Land, it all combines into a Good vs. Evil inkblot test about Google and its activities.
Postscript by Barry Schwartz: On January 27th, Nelson Mattos from Google posted that they have taken action.
We’ve concluded our investigation into the serious allegations about our use of data from Mocality’s website in Kenya. We’re very sorry this happened. We’ve taken appropriate action with the people involved and made changes in our operations to ensure this doesn’t occur again.
ReadWriteWeb said they fired Kenya country manager, Olga Arara-Kimani.