Google says sorry over Mocality data ‘theft’

Google has responded to accusations made by Kenyan online directory start-up, Mocality, that it unethically acquired confidential data to boost their business.

“We are 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 Google’s Nelson Mattos, Vice-President for Products and Engineering, 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.”

The issue came into public light on Friday after Mocality published a post on their blog titled ‘Google, what were you thinking?’

The post, written by a Stefan Magdalinski, chronicles how Mocality instituted investigations after several Kenyan clients called to confirm if Google was in partnership with Mocality.

The calls to Mocality clients were allegedly meant to lure them to Google’s own initiative to bring small businesses online. ‘Getting Kenyan Businesses Online’ (GKBO) was launched last September with the aim of bringing small Kenyan businesses online by selling a DIY website package.

“Shortly after that launch, we started receiving some odd calls. One or two business owners were clearly confused because they wanted help with their website, and we don’t currently offer websites, only a listing. Initially, we didn’t think much of it, but the confusing calls continued through November,” states the post by Stefan.

According to Mocality, investigations began in December 2011 by analyzing server logs for a common pattern.

“We found a single IP/User-Agent combination that had accessed all these businesses”

After several technical enquiries relating to browser versions and IP address, Mocality discovered the IP address was registered to 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View (Google’s address).

Mocality, which has over 170,000 business listings gathered over a two year period, also recorded a few of the phone calls made by Google employees to business owners.

In an update, Stefan said he had indeed received a phone call from Google’s Sub-Sahara lead, Joe Mucheru, apologizing on behalf of Google.

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