Search giant Google has apologised unreservedly for dodgy tactics used by a team working in Kenya, including accessing a rival’s database and misrepresenting Google as partners to that rival in phone calls to customers.
The tactics were uncovered by Stefan Magalinki, CEO of Kenyan business directory Mocality, who decided to investigate after ‘receiving some odd calls’ from customers.
"One or two business owners were clearly getting confused because they wanted help with their website, and we don’t currently offer websites,” Magdalinki writes in a blog post titled, ‘Google, what were you thinking?’
"Initially, we didn’t think much of it, but the confusing calls continued.”
Magdalinki explains how he launched a sting operation that redirected 10% of calls to customers to Mocality’s own call centre team.
"When we listened to the calls, we were beyond astonished.”
People representing Google’s Get Kenyan Business Online (GKBO) project (it is unclear whether they were employees of Google or an outsourced team) had been accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product, even claiming to be working in partnership with the company.
"When we started this investigation, I thought that we’d catch a rogue call-centre employee, point out to Google that they were violating our terms and conditions, someone would get a slap on the wrist, and life would continue,” Magdalinki writes.
"I did not expect to find a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent... attempt to undermine our business.”
Google responded quickly to the accusation with an unreserved apology, the company’s vice president for product and engineering in Europe and emerging markets, Nelson Mattos, posting this contrite statement on Google+:
"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 apologised unreservedly 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.”
Commentators are divided as to whether this is the inevitable result of a large company extending into more and more far-flung markets, or an example of the cut-throat strategy behind Google’s success, as also shown by its recent tinkering with Search.
Can a company the size of Google live up to its 'don't be evil' mantra, or are slips inevitable in any global business? Post your comments below.