Beware of the Googly

2012 February 2
by Zaheer Cassim

In cricket, the googly is a ball that spins more than expected. It deceives batsman who are not paying attention, to the extended break of the wrist and can be a devastating weapon in the arson of a spin bowler. I don’t know if Mocality CEO Stefan Magdalinski plays cricket, but he knows how to play a googly. But let’s start with the bowler.

This week, Olga Arara-Kimani, Google’s country manager of Kenya left her job. Now no one knows if she left on her own account or that she was fired, but what is for sure is that is that she hasn’t been playing nice with the competition.

Mocality specialises in keeping a directory of thousands of Kenyan businesses, which are easily accessible via your cellphone. Businesses get to list for free and most of them were contacted directly by the Mocality team, meaning a lot of man hours. But because of this hard work, Mocality has a very valuable database, which they have collected over the last two years.

Then in September of 2011 Google launches Getting Kenyan Businesses Online (GKBO) and that’s when things strange things started to happen, explains CEO in a blog.

“Shortly after that launch, we started receiving some odd calls. One or two business owners were clearly getting 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,”

he writes.

The Mocality team then discover a reoccurring IP address with a very distinct user agent, not common to Kenyan browsers. This user agent was spending half its time looking at contact details for each individual business.

Magdalinski decides to setup an operation to find out what was going on. He reroutes some of his client’s telephone numbers and instead of calling a business registered on the site, the phone call goes through to a member of the Mocality team.

What he found out was that the user agent turned out to be from GKBO computers and that they were using his database to phone his clients, only to sell them Google products. More than that, these Google employees were lying to the business owners by telling them that Mocality and Google were working together and that Mocailty charges for its listings, a service which is free.

You can click on this transcript to see one of those phone calls.

Magdalinkski discusses the whole sting on his blog and concluded with this:

“Since October, Google’s GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted.”

After the blog post, Google officially apologised to Mocality and acknowledged that they were using foul practices to steal clients away from the Kenyan company.

“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 Nelson Mattos, Google’s vice president for product and engineering, Europe and emerging markets.
“We’ve already unreservedly apologized 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,”

he said in a statement.

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