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Google Caught Misbehaving By Kenyan Startup 383

Posted by Soulskill
from the hand-in-cookie-jar dept.
An anonymous reader sends in an interesting story from Mocality, a company that painstakingly built a business directory in Kenya. When they discovered that somebody was systematically harvesting the contact information they'd collected (and after a few very odd phone calls from confused Kenyan business owners), they set up a sting to see what was really going on. They swapped out the phone numbers listed for a few businesses with phone numbers in their own call centers, and then waited to see who called. Mocality was shocked to discover it was Google Kenya, who falsely claimed a business collaboration with Mocality, and then lied about Mocality's business practices.
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Google Caught Misbehaving By Kenyan Startup

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  • Do no evil indeed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:30AM (#38685412)

    FTFA:

    On this call (first 2 minutes) you can clearly hear Douglas identify himself as Google Kenya employee, state, and then reaffirm, that GKBO is working in collaboration with Mocality, and that we are helping them with GKBO, before trying to offer the business owner a website (and upsell them a domain name). Over the 11 minutes of the whole call he repeatedly states that Mocality is with, or under (!) Google.

    If the allegations in this article are true, this is where they really cross the line. Harvesting a publicly available database and then contacting those businesses to sell them something is fine (though a little sleazy for a mainstream business like Google). But then trying to claim that you're working with that company when you're not is just plain fraud. It would be like some random insurance company calling people up and saying "Hi, we're working with your mortgage holder, Bank of Topeka, and would like to offer you a special insurance deal...in conjunction with Bank of Topeka."

    In fact, Mocality found out about this whole scam when customers started calling them up and asking for support for their new websites (thinking Mocality were the ones who had sold them the sites). I guess it never occurred to Google that this would happen and that Mocality would want to know why.

  • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:35AM (#38685484) Homepage

    Note the key words, "Google Kenya" - this is a branch office where some employee is taking a shortcut. This is hardly a condemnation of Google as a company unless and until it's demonstrated that this is either more than an isolated incident or was based on instructions received from corporate overlords.

  • by antitithenai (2552442) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:38AM (#38685516)
    Actually no, Google's Indian call centers are involved too, so this is obviously coming outside Google's Kenya's offices. On top of that, Google as the company is fully responsible for all their offices practices. You can't just point out that some other department did it.
  • by Synkronos (789022) <synkronos@nOspAm.gmail.com> on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:39AM (#38685518)
    It's the Mocality blog, blogging about Mocality's own investigations, into things that were done to Mocality. How much closer to the source do you want?
  • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:40AM (#38685528)
    Note the key word "Google." When it's your name being used, you have to take the bad as well as the good. It's not "Everything good is done by Google, everything bad is done by lone employees who do not really represent Google."
  • by antitithenai (2552442) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:40AM (#38685536)
    So if Google creates single department that does all their evil stuff, they're still not evil company? How far will you go to defend Google and not see through their bullshit?
  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:46AM (#38685602)

    Note the key words, "Google Kenya" - this is a branch office where some employee is taking a shortcut. This is hardly a condemnation of Google as a company unless and until it's demonstrated that this is either more than an isolated incident or was based on instructions received from corporate overlords.

    As other responses pointed out, this went beyond Google Kenya, so your point is invalid. Moreover, even if it were simply Google Kenya, I find your attitude to be terribly naive. If we don't hold parent companies/politicians/military leaders/whatever responsible for the actions of their subordinates and default to the notion that every negative act is that of a rogue, corrupt underling, we nearly eliminate the concept of institutional responsibility. The burden of proof in this sort of situation should be on the institution - there's no reason to assume that an incident was out of line with company policy until proven otherwise.

  • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:58AM (#38685732)
    You're absolutely right. If the allegations are true, then Google is at fault and should be taken to task for this.

    However, when things like this happen, it's usually worthwhile to figure out whether the bad behavior was isolated to a single person, a single department, a single branch, or whether it's a common part of the company's internal culture, or even a company-wide policy. The point being that if we can reliably determine that it was a small subset of the company behaving badly, and the company removes the offending parties, then you can reasonably keep interacting with the company (albeit with more vigilance than you were before). If, on the other hand, it's clear that this was part of a company-wide pattern, then you should reasonably stop trusting the company as a whole.

    To be clear: it's not a matter of absolving the parent company from responsibility (they are indeed responsible for everything their subsidiaries and employees do). It's about coming up with valid predictions about how likely this company is to be a repeat offender.
  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday January 13, 2012 @10:59AM (#38685736)

    Note the key words, "Google Kenya" - this is a branch office where some employee is taking a shortcut.

    Doesn't matter. If some McDonalds somewhere in the world is serving people maggoty burgers, the parent company is going to want to know who and shut them down right away. There are certain responsibilities you get when you let other people use your name, specifically it's still up to you to protect your reputation by not making franchise agreements with arse-holes.

  • revised motto: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thud457 (234763) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:00AM (#38685742) Homepage Journal
    "Don't be caught being evil"
  • by El Torico (732160) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:01AM (#38685748)
    A subordinate's excuse is, "I was just following orders."
    A superior's excuse excuse is, "I was out of the loop."
    Neither is acceptable.
  • by alexosaki (1292768) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:07AM (#38685830)
    I don't think that's something we should really let them get away with -- Union Carbide did that, too, arguing that they didn't have any responsibility for what happened in Bhopal because it was some subsidiary of theirs.

    Set aside questions of branding and PR, and set aside whether or not some mysterious, shadowy figure in Mountainview signed the order to go ahead. That it happened at all either suggests that Google's corporate culture is so venal and corrupt that Google-Kenya thought that it was acceptable, or that Google is so incompetent and muddled that they're not capable of articulating their legitimate culture to their own employees and contractors.

    With the Google Chrome advertising dustup a couple weeks back, it could be either, but neither is particularly good and neither should free them of "condemnation of Google as a company."
  • by Archimagus (978734) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:10AM (#38685868)
    I don't think anyone is saying that Google shouldn't be held responsible. Just that it's probably not Google trying to be evil, but some random employee breaking the law. If corporate deals with it accordingly I don't see how you can condemn the company as a whole for it. If the dude making your burger at the local burger hut spits on your burger does that make the whole burger hut corporation an evil business for having their employees spit in burgers? No, it makes the guy a jerk who doesn't follow corporate policy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:13AM (#38685910)
    Google is responsible for fixing the problem...that said the bad practices of a few do not indict an entire organization, unless of course directives were coming down from leadership that this is acceptable practices or Google proper doesn't respond adequately once the activities are exposed.
  • by nahdude812 (88157) * on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:14AM (#38685936) Homepage

    I agree that Google as a whole is responsible for the actions of its individual branches, but it's how Google responds to the accusation that determines whether Google condones the behavior, not whether Google was able to proactively micromanage branch offices.

    I don't buy your theory that because an Indian call center was involved, this automatically makes it an action blessed by corporate. Branch offices have their own budgets and discretionary spending. Maybe it was Eric Schmidt himself who told them to do this. But we really have no way of knowing, and it's a simpler explanation that one or a few employees were engaged in taking shortcuts than that Google corporate issues orders to branch offices which involve instructions to illegally misrepresent a business relationship.

    Or maybe it was the Indian call center themselves who took this "initiative" and decided to lie about the relationship (that would certainly be consistent with when we fired a call center for overtly lying to our customers to shorten call times).

    I'll side with Occam's Razor on this. If corporate wanted this information this badly, they'd have paid for it. The bad press and legal repercussions would outweigh the licensing costs.

  • by msauve (701917) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:14AM (#38685942)
    "This is a rumor posted on a blog."

    And this is just an unmoderated discussion posted on a website. What's the problem?
  • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:24AM (#38686112) Homepage Journal

    To be fair, that's actually way too close to the source for my comfort.

    I'm not saying they did, and I'm quite sure they did not, but Mocality could completely make up everything in this story. I'd much prefer a traditional news organization to have done the research on this so I have some third party confirmation rather than trusting the self-declared harmed party.

    I believe in cloud-sourcing the news as much as the next guy, but this is when investigative reporting is most valuable. Serious accusations require serious and skilled reporting.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:29AM (#38686170)

    Microsoft has a history of pulling dick moves, that the corporate office is fully aware of, and continuing even with large public outcry. Google has a few offices/individuals that they don't have good control of. Even though these acts are deplorable and illegal, it is nowhere near Microsoft's history of deplorable legal acts.

  • by a2wflc (705508) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:30AM (#38686192)

    My fortune 100 company has branches, subsidiaries, and employees all over the world. We have fired VPs of a region for things like this going on in their geographic area. There are many things we don't allow anywhere globally even though they are legal or the only way to get things done in some countries.

    I can't stand all of the business practice, ethics, and legal training I have to go through every year (along with 10s of thousands of other employees) at a pretty high cost to the company. But everyone from the top down to new hires knows that stuff like this won't be tolerated and that responsibility doesn't stop with the person doing the unethical behavior (so the VPs insist on everyone under them being aware of corporate policy and follow it, and you do need the push from that level).

    So I know it's possible to control and have have no problem blaming "Google" as well as "Google Kenya". I don't know all the facts here, so google may very well have similar policies to my company and someone high up will be fired. But, if they haven't been making an effort to stop things like this from the corporate level, I will put some blame on them.

  • Re:Outright fraud (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:44AM (#38686414)

    True, but here's my beef: there's no rational discussion to be had with an astroturfer. It's like arguing with an ad: you can't do it. The arguments of an ad might not necessarily be wrong, but there is not rational discussion to be had.

    Think about it for a second: do you really want to have Slashdot become the equivalent of the Superbowl ad segments, or the set of political ads that happen during an election year?

    You might want to, but to me it's just trying to yell over noise. I have better things to do.

  • by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:45AM (#38686430)

    Frankly I don't see much difference between Google and Microsoft's corporatism and anti-competitive practices, except that Microsoft has had a 20 year head start.

  • by N1AK (864906) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:45AM (#38686442) Homepage
    No and that isn't what he said. Any organisation with tens of thousands of employees will at some point have one do something that is evil/wrong/unethical etc. The difference betweena good and a bad organisation is how they react, whether they consider it when hiring, how diligent they are in checking and how they reward and promote employees.
  • by pseudofrog (570061) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:48AM (#38686502)
    With posts like this, you'll have to make a yet another new account fairly soon.

    You seem to be advocating stopping the story here and declaring Google pure evil full stop. I prefer a bit more nuance in my analysis.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:49AM (#38686534) Homepage

    In some ways, it kinda does indict the entire organization.... the entire brand anyway.

    The personality and integrity of a company is an important and even critical asset and must be guarded and maintained. If Google made the mistake of using the people behind this problem, they put their brand and image in serious jeopardy. Like it or not (call it racism if you want) certain parts of the world exist where lies and deceit are built-in to the game. China is built around bribes and crap like that and US companies are routinely called onto the floor for "doing business" with Chinese people in the way the Chinese people expect.

    Sometimes competition is a race to the top. Sometimes, it's a race to the bottom... it's a race to whatever practice yields the best results.

  • by vovick (1397387) on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:52AM (#38686606)
    Provided Google has a worldwide VPN, which it almost certainly does, the data packets could originate from its Kenyan or Indian branch, go through VPN to Google CA, leave their private network there and come back to Kenya.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, 2012 @11:56AM (#38686668)

    Note the key words, "Google Kenya" - this is a branch office where some employee is taking a shortcut. This is hardly a condemnation of Google as a company unless and until it's demonstrated that this is either more than an isolated incident or was based on instructions received from corporate overlords.

    As other responses pointed out, this went beyond Google Kenya, so your point is invalid. Moreover, even if it were simply Google Kenya, I find your attitude to be terribly naive. If we don't hold parent companies/politicians/military leaders/whatever responsible for the actions of their subordinates and default to the notion that every negative act is that of a rogue, corrupt underling, we nearly eliminate the concept of institutional responsibility. The burden of proof in this sort of situation should be on the institution - there's no reason to assume that an incident was out of line with company policy until proven otherwise.

    I suppose you are also ready to condemn the complete rank of the US armed forces, all 1,400,000 of them, as deplorable corpse-pissers?

    A chain of responsibility is one (important) thing but if you don't take the whole of the org's history into account when looking at one incident, you are stereotyping the entire group for the (possibly independent) actions of one tiny part of it. We have learned several times in history that stereotyping does not work, facts win in the long run and for the time being anyway, no other Google branches have acted this way...

  • by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Friday January 13, 2012 @12:23PM (#38687128)

    If some McDonalds somewhere in the world is serving people maggoty burgers, the parent company is going to want to know who and shut them down right away.

    Of course they will. But how do you know what is going on here when the only side we've heard from is the complaining side, and this is probably the first that Google Corporate is hearing of it?

    Whenever you read a story like this, the first question you have to ask is whether it looks like a part of a smear campaign by Microsoft or another competitor. Did the authors contact Google to get their side of the story? Maybe they actually do have a deal with Mocality and right hand at Mocality doesn't know what the left hand is doing. They're certainly being gigantic dicks by taking the issue to publication first, before calling up the people who they're accusing to get all the facts and possibly have whatever problematic activity shut down right away.

  • by mkuki (768661) on Friday January 13, 2012 @12:33PM (#38687304)

    it is not a fucking department. it is a local branch in kenya, then, some branch in india. doing exactly the same things all kenyan and indian businesses do. are you saying that google has instituted a policy for scam-calling business owners to trick them into paying them to have a domain name and a website hosted on google's servers ? does google have a hosting business ?

    First, Your statement is bull. I'm Kenyan, and this is not standard operating procedure for Kenyan businesses. It behooves you to do some actual research (or even read the actual article) before spewing crap. Also, even if this was SOP, didn't your parents ask you "If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?". Wrong is wrong, most people know that. Germany was always the laughing stock of Europe because German businesses for the longest time could deduct bribes paid to foreign governments from their taxes. They would have loved your viewpoint. Anyway, with that out of the way, the blog post is pretty detailed. Google really has only 2 options 1: Explain 2: Admit culpability This is a pretty freaking big story in Kenya right now. Google is pretty well known, they've been doing a huge push to win Kenyan businesses to their services, they've invested heavily both in physical infrastructure and capacity, and this is the kind of shennanigans that can really sully a companies reputation, especially when it seems like Goliath vs David and Goliath is playing dirty.

  • by ScentCone (795499) on Friday January 13, 2012 @12:37PM (#38687388)

    Neither is acceptable

    Except that each those is often exactly true. In the "just following orders" situation, you go up the food chain until you find out who issued them. In the "I was out of the loop" scenario, you go down the food chain until you find out where the loop's boundaries are.

    What does "unacceptable" mean to you? If someone subordinate to you does something of which you would not approve, and about which you did not know ... what, should your entire organization, all the way to the top of the org chart be destroyed? Really?

  • by mkuki (768661) on Friday January 13, 2012 @12:39PM (#38687414)

    Everything you said is true except the last bit, "this is a huge, huge, blow to Google." Cynically, there is no way some small Kenyan firm is going to be able to bring a serious lawsuit in the US against Google. Google's legal team would crush them, tie them up in series after series of motions, and bankrupt Mocality before any verdict could hope to be passed. Such is the nature of large corporate legal teams.

    Mocality doesn't have to bring a lawsuit against Google in the U.S, they could bring it in Kenyan court (because claiming to have a relationship with Mocality falls under 'fraudulent Business Practices'), and even then, they might not have to go to court. The bad publicity is enough to put a serious dent in Google's Africa Strategy. Also, this is spreading far beyond just Kenya (where it is a big story), it's on Techcrunch and a number of other sites.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Friday January 13, 2012 @12:42PM (#38687468) Homepage Journal

    Yes.

    sometime a group; in a large organization will do something wrong. sometime by accident, sometime on purpose. How the company overall handles it is the critical issues, as well as the behavior going forward.

    ti's not an excuse, its reasonable.

  • by shitzu (931108) on Friday January 13, 2012 @01:52PM (#38688592)

    That is the 20 year head start thing again. To do so, helps Google gain market share NOW. Come back with this talk in 20 years. My prediction is, that by 2020 we hate Google more than we hate msft now.

  • by ilguido (1704434) on Friday January 13, 2012 @02:08PM (#38688842) Homepage
    This FUD about Google is getting really annoying. A random guy from a Kenya-based obscure society posts an entry blog accusing Google of breaking the law in every possible manner and then the usual suspects start ranting? Come on.
    This whole story could be just a bad forgery and nonetheless the Google bashing starts again: I don't know how it works there in Kenya, but where I live if someone is suspecting such a misbehaving the first step is to call the police or the lawyers. Do you know that all those facts(?) the guy is showing us would be null in a trial? What did he achieve doing this? Just bad advertisement for Google and some more clicks for his obscure company, nothing more. This is a non-story, like when Microsoft claims that Linux infringes 200 patents or so. No trial, no way to know the truth, no story.

    I post this for the posterity: Naspers to benefit from facebook ipo [marklives.com], Napsters is Mocality's parent company [balancingact-africa.com].

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