Was Google Caught in a Sting Operation in Kenya?

Jan 13th

Wow...this is pretty...um...transparent.

According to this post, Google was caught scraping Mocality, calling the listed businesses, soliciting that they move to Google "Get Your Business Online", disparaged the directory they were scraping in the client call, and then lied about having the permission of the directory they were scraping to try to con businesses into working with Google.

A few select quotes:

There are absolutely no costs, and this will be agreed on before it’s put on… No one will come and tell you like Mocality used to do, someone tells you it’s free and then they come to ask for money. You know that Google doesn’t fool around here.
...
Mocality used to charge people and many of the people who used to be in Mocality we have taken them and transferred them here. Didn’t we also find you on Mocality?
...
Ai…they used to…but some people didn’t used to pay. They [Mocality] used to go and ask people to pay them around Ksh. 20,000 and people refused. It was things like that.)

Google's business model *is* buying or building things that are free and then later pulling back features and/or sneaking costs in on them. Whether it be clubbing Android carriers with compatibility, saying search ads are evil then placing them everywhere, Google Maps API terms changes, terms changes on the Google AdWords API, Google hotel place listings with endless price ads, or keyword (not provided) in web analytics while trying to force you to register in Google Webmaster Tools to get any keyword data at all!

As if that wasn't bad enough, when the fake business asked Google if Mocality was ok with this, this was the exchange:

My question is does Mocality know that you’re getting their con…our contacts from their directory?
~~~
Yah. They know. They know that very well. They have agreed with Google when they were on that thing.

I have long stated that the difference between spam and quality content is who is spamming. With the recent widely criticized over-promotion of Google+ in the search results and this sort of scrape, lie & disintermediate the source Google's true character is shining through.

Facebook & Twitter are smart not to leave the barn door open for Google.

All information wants to be free and wrapped in Google's ads. Or so the saying goes. But until they can be trusted it won't be. They have done A LOT of brand damage to themselves in the past couple months.

Update: Google was mortified that they got caught doing this:

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.

Published: January 13, 2012

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Comments

January 13, 2012 - 3:16pm

Long time lurker first time poster. I agree 100% with your views on Google and their "Do what we tell you to, not what we do" attitude.

They continually make money by scraping all web content and then sell it for their own gains. And the best part is, they get all the webmasters to jump through their hoops to make it easier for their technology to scrape that content.

"Don't be Evil" my arse!

January 14, 2012 - 1:51am

I believe that part of the trouble with Google is that they are growing to fast for their own good. Each department has pressure to perform, or else. It reminds me of the the comparison of the sumo wrestler and school teacher in the book Freakonomics. I don't believe Larry Page was like hey go rip off this company, I don't think he knows what the hells going on. How could he???????

January 14, 2012 - 1:55am

What TWO billion dollars isn't enough for you?

January 14, 2012 - 2:24am

It's almost certain that this will be a case of "we contracted to a workforce to recruit memberships..." etc. Google will say the bad actors were working in violation of the agreement, or the policies weren't yet clear, they should not have done that, it's not Google's policy to operate that way, etc.

And I'll believe it.

Google is trying to grow too fast, because it has too. In the WORLD, Google doesn't have enough coverage of the white and yellow pages. Which is what it's trying to be.. the global white/yellow pages. It's time for one, and that's a very powerful position to be in (globally).

When wikipedia was forced to grow fast or not be The Big One, they published guidelines for their editors to inspect web pages submitted or meaning to be used a references and rewrite them, in order to eliminate the need to reference them. By re-writing the parts that matter into wikipedia, wikipedia's editors eliminated the value they held as unique web pages on the web. That was the business plan... not quite the "donate to us" benevolent foundation they would like everyone to believe they are.

Google can and will do the same, but to see them push so fast into foolhardy work forces that don't protect the Google name.. is sad. Damage control will cost alot more than the savings from outsourcing that work.

January 14, 2012 - 7:19am

...at first they said they were investigating it, and then (going into the weekend) they stated:

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.

Nice...a team of people...were they Googlers? Were they external hires? Were they intentionally hired as external bodies because what was being done was known to be sketchy? These questions I suspect the world will never know the answers to, as it is now Saturday & the media sleeps.

This is part of what is so great about Google's position. They can commoditize so many things & whenever they know they are doing something super sketchy they can hide behind the open label, using the phrase "publicly accessible", and/or pin the act on an anonymous nobody who will allegedly be excluded from future projects. And without naming who of course there is no way to have any accountability, so the same thing will happen over and over again.

Any time there is excessive market consolidation in a vertical Google can partner with players 2 through x and slap the open label on the marketing, give themselves (and partners) preferential placement & suggest that if the market leader was open they would be welcome to join. Then if the leader is dumb enough to be "open" they absorb almost all the costs of their business while Google absorbs almost all the value. Pretty clever stuff by Google!

Another interesting sub-story here: Google claims they need webmaster registrations with real names / identity in order to police the web, but when Google gets caught doing sleazeball stuff it is either "a third party" or "a team of people" which will never be named. Once again, it is far more profitable to do what Google does than do what they suggest you do.

Once Google follows their own suggestions then you can safely do so as well. Until then, action speaks louder than words. ;) :D

January 16, 2012 - 11:13pm
January 15, 2012 - 12:10pm

Thanks for a very informative post. I think so It Can't be google. Google can't do this, scraping of the content, is this true?Its difficult to believe. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is that Google is a very big search engine and a vast information can be searched on.

January 15, 2012 - 3:14pm

...the post has an update where Google confirms that they are behind it, along with a fake apology for doing it.

January 17, 2012 - 6:12pm

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the FTC thoroughly probe into their secretive, fraudulent practices , the world would be astonished to see them paying a couple more $500m penalties.

January 17, 2012 - 8:46pm

"...pin the act on an anonymous nobody who will allegedly be excluded from future projects..."

Sadly, this is the common excuse among plagiarists and thieves who profit from others work! "I didn't do it. Someone else stole it. I just made money from the theft."

January 18, 2012 - 2:55am

Google's actions fail to surprise me. I love how they have been busted for virtually everything they have publicly denounced as being akin to war crimes:

  • Buying links - check
  • Scraping the web - check
  • Censoring the web - check
  • Aggressively biased search results promoting their own content (Youtube, Places, Shopping) check.
  • Selling counterfeit goods - check
  • Running illegal drug ads - check

As a seasoned search marketer I have unfortunately encountered their double standards and hypocrisy up close. Based on there recent track record I'm anticipating that 2012 will be the year that Google gets dinged for Malware production, Phishing scams and people smuggling ;)

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