Google Blames Rogue Staff for Fraudulent Web Services

Dennis Faas's picture

Google says it was "mortified" at word that its staff have been using misrepresentation to win business in Africa. Employees of the US search firm have been accused of using a Kenyan company's business listings to contact customers and pitch a competing service.

The victimized firm is known as "Mocality," a company that tries to help businesses of all size benefit from the Internet. Mocality is paid to index details of Kenyan companies, creating an online directory of more than 170,000 firms.

Last year, the company began receiving phone calls from companies asking about website creation services, which Mocality does not offer. After a bit of research, the company discovered that as many as 2,500 visits per day to its business directory emanated from a single Kenyan location (IP address).

It appeared that all visits from that IP address were made using Google's Chrome browser on Linux-based computers -- something that would be an unlikely set-up for an average user based in Kenya. (Source:

Undercover Sting Catches Google Red-Handed

Mocality then ran a sting operation, tweaking its website so that most of the time visitors from the suspicious location would get the normal business listing requested, but about 10 per cent of the time they would see a dummy page with a misrepresented phone number.

This dummy page and phone number actually connected the caller to Mocality's own staff, who would pose as employees of a small business and also record the call.

In a three hour period, the sting attracted seven calls from Google Kenya staff falsely claiming they were working alongside Mocality to sign up customers for website services. In one case, the Google caller even falsely accused Mocality of running a "bait and switch" operation to try to make money from its listings.

Google Apologizes, Blames Renegade Workers

Mocality continued exploring the issue and later found similar calls from India on behalf of Google, suggesting the company had outsourced the scam. Mocality then published details of its investigation under a blog post titled "Google, what were you thinking?"

Google now says, "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."

Google also noted it has contacted Mocality directly to apologize and will investigate the situation, then take appropriate action against any staff people involved in the scheme. (Source:

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