A “Mortified” Google Apologizes To Mocality For Poaching Customers, Lying About Relationship

google-g-logoGoogle 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.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features & Analysis | Google: Legal | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Sheldon Campbell

    Nice reporting, Matt! Talk about some serious egg on their collective face, after a couple of weeks plagued by PR disasters!
    Although, to be honest, I don’t believe the crew at the ‘Plex is that dumb. I think this was likely some rogue activity. Still, the timing is horrible!

  • Randal

    Friday the 13th… Too bad for Google there are 2 more this year…

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  • Anonymous

    The crew at the ‘Plex might not be dumb but they are arrogant enough to believe they could pull this off without getting caught.

  • Sheldon Campbell

    I really see that as highly unlikely. Someone would have to be incredibly stupid to think such a thing would go undetected.
    In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter… it happened, and Google is ultimately responsible (which they haven’t denied). Whatever’s behind it, the timing is really bad. I suspect the FTC bulldogs will be all over this, foaming at the mouth.

  • Anonymous

    Guess who else was “mortified”? -

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