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Google Apologises For Kenyan Startup Data Scraping

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Google employee apologises on Google+ for scraping details of Kenyan businesses from Mocality

Google has “unreservedly apologised” to Mocality, amid accusations that it scraped the Kenyan startup’s database of local businesses and spread lies about its service.

Nelson Matos, Google Europe product and engineering vice president, made the apology in a Google+ post.

Google Investigation

“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,” said Mattos. “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.”

Mocality is a crowdsourced platform that lists over 170,000 Kenyan small businesses, many of whom have never been online before, and pays locals who contribute to its database. However shortly after Google launched its Getting Kenyan Businesses Online (GKBO) programme last year, the company began to receive strange phone calls requesting services it didn’t offer, such as websites.

After it detected unusual traffic patterns, Mocality set a trap which revealed that Google was scraping its database, phoning businesses and claiming that Mocality charged for its services.

It released its findings last Friday and Stefan Magdalinski, CEO of Mocality claimed Google was behind “a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent (falsely claiming to be collaborating with us, and worse) attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on two continents.”

Before Mattos posted his apology today, Google’s only response was a statement which read, “We’re aware that a company in Kenya has accused us of using some of their publicly available customer data without permission. We are investigating the matter and will have more information as soon as possible.”

The scandal is likely to affect Google’s reputation even further after a number of incidents in recent years. In May 2010 it admitted that its Street View cars had inadvertently collected personal information from private networks while taking pictures and last week it was forced to confess that it profited from adverts for illegal enterprises which sold fake IDs, cannabis and non-existent Olympic tickets.