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Do Not Much Evil
January 13, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

"Google, what were you thinking?" Kenyan startup, Mocality use an online sting, and cunning detective work, to apparently find Google fraudulently stealing their customers.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName (131 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. Interesting stuff.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:33 AM on January 13, 2012


Do No Evil.*

*does not apply in Africa (but then, it never does)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:35 AM on January 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


Dear Sir,

Confidential Business Proposal

Having consulted with my colleagues and based on the information gathered from the United States Chambers Of Commerce, I have the privilege to request your assistance to transfer the sum of $47,500,000.00 (forty seven million, five hundred thousand United States dollars) into your accounts. The above sum resulted from an over-invoiced contract, executed, commissioned and paid for about five years (5) ago by a foreign contractor. This action was however intentional and since then the fund has been in a suspense account at The Federal Reserve Bank.

We are now ready to transfer the fund overseas and that is where you come in. It is important to inform you that as software engineers, we are forbidden to operate a foreign account; that is why we require your assistance. The total sum will be shared as follows: 70% for us, 25% for you and 5% for local and international expenses incidental to the transfer.

The transfer is risk free on both sides. I am an accountant with Google, Inc. If you find this proposal acceptable, we shall require the following documents:

(a) your banker's name, telephone, account and fax numbers.

(b) your private telephone and fax numbers —for confidentiality and easy communication.

(c) your email address.

Alternatively we will furnish you with the text of what to type into your email, along with a breakdown explaining, comprehensively what we require of you. The business will take us thirty (30) working days to accomplish.

Please reply urgently.

Best regards

Chaitan Khan
Google, Inc.
Mountain View, CA
posted by swift at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Speaking as an attorney...? I would love if clients had their stuff together like this when walking into my office. I could almost write the complaint just from that blog post.
posted by red clover at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


According to Boing Boing, Google is supposed to make an official statement "soo."
posted by exogenous at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, make that "soon" - I don't think they intend to summon their pigs. Soo-ey!
posted by exogenous at 9:39 AM on January 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


From the transcript:
Caller: "You know that Google doesn't fool around here."
posted by finite at 9:39 AM on January 13, 2012


I feel bad that my outrage at google's shitty behavior is overwhelmed by my delight at the surprise opportunity to learn random Swahili business-related phrases.
posted by elizardbits at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't Get Caught Doing Evil.
posted by Kabanos at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]




"Do No Evil."

Guys, it's okay as long as you pay your Indulgences. The model still works.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:45 AM on January 13, 2012


Excellent post, thanks.
posted by Kwine at 9:46 AM on January 13, 2012


"It's Not Evil When We Do It"
posted by Xoebe at 9:47 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


On the boingboing discussion a few commentators were arguing that it couldn't be Google as there are humans involved. I disagree.

From chatting to a few different folks who have work temp jobs for google in SF and in Dublin, google hire a surprisingly large number of humans to do semi-automated work. Person #1 was manually categorizing pornography (presumably to be fed in as a sample to an algorithm); Person #2 was using telemarketing to sell services to businesses. So there are people in there, checking things and selling services, despite the perception that all they do is make fancy software.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:48 AM on January 13, 2012


Between this and the recent Google+ shenanigans I might have to change my default search engine to Bing!

Are you happy now Google? Look what you made me do!
posted by VTX at 9:50 AM on January 13, 2012


They dropped "don't be evil" in 2009. They been trying to walk it back ever since. I bet they are wishing they had never said it.

Anyway, Don't Be Evil is vastly different than Do No Evil. You can do some evil stuff and not BE evil right?
posted by Ad hominem at 9:50 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to Boing Boing, Google is supposed to make an official statement "soo."

The not-so-great part of watching Google get caught is that they are such an arrogant company about getting caught. I hope things go okay for Mr. Magdalinski.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 AM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


That is some impressive detective work, and pretty damning evidence.

Just curious—is it possible that these telemarketers were only claiming to be representing Google? I mean, they lied about being affiliated with Mocality, why not with Google, too? The other evidence suggesting the Google connection is the IP address used to access the Mocality database. Is there another possible explanation for that?

Not trying to be a Google apologist here, just curious what kind of plausible deniability they might have.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2012


Anyway, Don't Be Evil is vastly different than Do No Evil. You can do some evil stuff and not BE evil right?

The bastards must have Googled "casuistry"...
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2012


...the surprise opportunity to learn random Swahili business-related phrases.

I like wale wanawake wakubwa and I cannot lie.
posted by Kabanos at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


+50 darkside points.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Since the scraping seems to be manually done, this is more of an apropos, but isn't this robots.txt useless? If there's no path specified in the Disallow: directive, does it just get ignored by crawlers?
posted by ymgve at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2012


This is a prime use-case for an automated betting pool; let people bet on what they think the corporate response will be now that they've been exposed. Wrap up the pool and pay out once they issue their official statement, then start a new pool on whether they'll be forced to revise their response.

Short-term betting on corporate idiocy is the gambling wave of the future, mark my words.
posted by aramaic at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


VTX Between this and the recent Google+ shenanigans I might have to change my default search engine to Bing!

DuckDuckGo seems to be choice in my social group, after dumping google
posted by Z303 at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


Everybody slow down and think about this for a second. Do you really think Google is doing this? Isn't it much more likely that a third-party scammer is using Mocality and Google's names?
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 9:59 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, that's totally evil, Google. BOO! HISS!
posted by darkstar at 9:59 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google really shouldn't be doing stuff like this. On the other hand, it makes sense from a business perspective.
posted by rebent at 9:59 AM on January 13, 2012


Just curious—is it possible that these telemarketers were only claiming to be representing Google? I mean, they lied about being affiliated with Mocality, why not with Google, too? The other evidence suggesting the Google connection is the IP address used to access the Mocality database. Is there another possible explanation for that?

I wondered about that too. A Google spokesperson has said that the company is investigating the allegation and will make a response soon. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.
posted by yoink at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2012


Between this and the recent Google+ shenanigans I might have to change my default search engine to Bing!

Seconding DuckDuckGo. I've been using it for over a year now. The only thing missing is image search, but it will send you to Google Images if you add a "!i" to your query.
posted by DU at 10:01 AM on January 13, 2012


The lying third party would also have to be forging their who-is info too, wouldn't they?

Hey, I use Duckduckgo, too. Learned about it on the Blue, if I'm not mistaken.
posted by oddman at 10:02 AM on January 13, 2012


mad bomber what bombs at midnight: "Everybody slow down and think about this for a second. Do you really think Google is doing this? Isn't it much more likely that a third-party scammer is using Mocality and Google's names?"

Mocality reports that their servers were being hit from Google's IP blocks. I suppose it's not impossible for a third party to spoof that, but that would take a surprising (to me) level of foresight in a scam like this.
posted by adamrice at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you really think Google is doing this? Isn't it much more likely that a third-party scammer is using Mocality and Google's names?

The IP address coming from Google's IP address range seems like pretty damning evidence to me.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2012


I was struck by how well this guy knows his stuff. Not just the technical side, but the social one. He translated Kenyan money and terminology into English. The only reason to do that is to make the story easier for the US/Canada/Europe to follow. That's savvy internetting, right there.
posted by DU at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Everybody slow down and think about this for a second. Do you really think Google is doing this? Isn't it much more likely that a third-party scammer is using Mocality and Google's names?

Maybe (hopefully?), but why would a third-party scammer be marketing what are presumably real Google Kenya products and services?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2012


Well, my take on it is this (or what google is going to say).

This is a real google product, they contracted with local operators to sell said product for a cut. Said local operators turned out to be shady. Relationship ended.

It would be nuts to roll out their own people on the ground to do sales in africa, or even use an indian call center. This is a contractor doing sales.

Anyone care to wager?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:06 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect what happened here is that Google has a local brick and mortar office in Kenya (where it might be a lot easier to find Swahili-speaking translators, etc.), and the someone high up in that office but rather low in Google's overall hierarchy realized that they late to the game on competing with Mocality and hatched this plan without consulting anyone outside of Kenya at all.
posted by localroger at 10:07 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


This "scandal" is silly and all of you people jumping to the conclusion that Google is doing this deliberate evil should be embarrassed. A much more likely explanation for what happened to Mocality is it's a scammer pretending to be Google.

The only evidence connecting this to Google is the request from the IP address 74.125.63.33. The Hacker News discussion has at least one way that could have been generated from anyone in the world outside Google: via Google Translate. I can think of several others. I can't quickly tell where that IP is hosted but given that it's 240ms from me in California, I'm guessing Europe or Africa. It's probably some random datacenter.

It's absurd to read anything into Google's lack of a response. Mocality's blog post is from the last 24 hours. BoingBoing's story is 7 hours old. It's 10am in California. Google will take time to investigate the story and respond. Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be a rogue employee or affiliate, it's happened before. In which case Google better handle it appropriately. And quickly.

There are reasons to be worried about Google: I think the new Google+ social search is very problematic, for instance. But this story ain't it. Even if it turns out to be a Google employee or affiliate perpetrating the scam, do you really think this would be Google corporate policy? The interesting part of this story is how quickly people believe Google is so evil and greedy that they'd scam a few hundred bucks from businesses in Kenya. Google made $9 billion in revenue last quarter.
posted by Nelson at 10:08 AM on January 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


I worked at Google for a few years. My experience is that it's like any other huge multinational corporation in that there are regional teams that get more or less supervision. They're also somewhat hamstrung in that in certain regional hiring situations, they have to focus on getting someone who can speak the local language over getting someone of their normal standard of ethics and acceptable background.

As a result I saw people working in Google who did evil things, pure and simple, especially in the more obscure markets to reach their sales targets. When they were caught they were fired, when they didn't and succeeded as a result, they were promoted.

This type of thing will always happen. Thinking it won't is a bit childish. It's Google's official response and subsequent actions that defines their culture.
posted by Willfull at 10:11 AM on January 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


The IP address coming from Google's IP address range seems like pretty damning evidence to me.

They didn't connect the Google IP to the scammer's IP strongly enough to convince me.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 10:11 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another sign he knows his stuff is by how many of the objections in this thread were already addressed. For instance, the "it isn't really google" ones. Explain the IP. Or this one, from at least two people:

It would be nuts to roll out their own people on the ground to do sales in africa, or even use an indian call center. This is a contractor doing sales.

someone...rather low in Google's overall hierarchy realized that they late to the game on competing with Mocality and hatched this plan without consulting anyone outside of Kenya at all.

Mocality's prebuttal: Who knew, and who SHOULD have known, even if they didn’t know?
posted by DU at 10:11 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe (hopefully?), but why would a third-party scammer be marketing what are presumably real Google Kenya products and services?

They're charging for them.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 10:12 AM on January 13, 2012


they have to focus on getting someone who can speak the local language over getting someone of their normal standard of ethics and acceptable background.

Or, put another way, making money is more important than ethics. Unsurprising, true. But that doesn't mean we have to like it or are immature for wanting it fixed.
posted by DU at 10:13 AM on January 13, 2012


*It's actually "Don't Be Evil," not "Do No Evil"
posted by jeremy b at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2012


Does the google translate option suggested in Hacker News seem unlikely, as the browsers were using very new versions of chrome, running on linux?
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:15 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The interesting part of this story is how quickly people believe Google is so evil and greedy that they'd scam a few hundred bucks from businesses in Kenya.

What's unusual about holding a company accountable for the actions of its (rogue) employees? Papa John's just finished apologizing up and down because some teenage cashier typed a racial slur onto a receipt. Nobody thinks that the CEO issued a directive to label all Asian female customers "lady chinky eyes," but it's appropriate and right for the company to accept responsibility for the actions of its employee. Ditto here.

When somebody starts yelling that Google should be shut down completely because of this, then okay, overreaction. At the moment I just see people saying, "This was bad. You shouldn't have done this. What do you have to say?" That seems fair.
posted by red clover at 10:16 AM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


But in an honest, ethical world, the "It was just local contractors- and you know how those Kenyans are" response from Google HQ would ring terribly false. And I'm not sure I buy that this was a third-party scammer impersonating both Google and Mocality; an easy way to tell, however, is to look for anyone who actually paid their fee/bought the website package, and figure out who's behind that.

Assuming these people were affiliated with Google in any capacity, then Google's excuses will be hollow if it's not a full admission of responsibility.
  1. The practice occurred for months; whoever from GHQ is supposed to be overseeing the GKBO would have to drop the ball for this to happen without oversight.
  2. Unless we're to believe that the GKBO knew what they were doing was wrong, and intentionally hid it from GHQ (which would be convenient)
  3. But even if they did, this sounds like a significant amount of human effort for months, which GHQ should have been asking "What do all your staff do all day?" And that's right back to the "who SHOULD have known" question.
  4. If these were scammers impersonating Google impersonating Mocality, then why would they use a fake IP? And if they did, why use a consistent IP? That's like a bad heist movie where our hero/villain has somehow planned 8 steps ahead and planted bad information for the slim possibility that Mocality would track the IP logs and set up a sting by giving them IP-based custom (incorrect) content... instead of using the 7-proxies approach that would look like scattered access from varied IPs, or not doing anything at all.
  5. Willfull's right: it's not as if this was a directive from the top, but in corporate culture if you do evil things and don't get caught, you get promoted. What does come from the top is the edict to be vigilant, to be whistleblowers, and to "Do no evil"... which apparently is now optional, for this to get ignored by presumably many people.
posted by hincandenza at 10:17 AM on January 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


OK, 74.125.63.33 appears to be in Hyderabad, India. A quick Google search for that address turns up discussions where people think it may be used by Google for checking on websites, maybe spam detection.

If I read the Mocality post correctly, the only evidence connecting 74.125.63.33 to the scam is that IP address was used to visit some of his customers' websites who were contacted by the scam. OK, well, great! Google accesses a lot of websites; I bet if he looks he'll find GoogleBot visited all those sites too.

So it could be a scam completely unconnected to Google. Or it could be a rogue employee in Hyderabad. Or who knows, maybe it's Google corporate policy to skim a few hundred bucks off of some guy's customers in Kenya. What do you think is most likely?

Could we at least wait to hear Google's response before you light the torches?
posted by Nelson at 10:18 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


After they totally fucked up the search results a while back, with the entire "I'm pretty sure you meant 'X' so here's the results for that," and then the prioritization of Google+ results that you have to opt out of every time, I went and changed my search engine to Bing.

The same Bing that I used to make fun of because it sucked. It actually doesn't seem to suck at all now, and is a lot like Google search circa 2000-ish when it used to be great.

And then shit like this happens and makes Bing seem even better.
I tried Duckduckgo a while back but it was kind of annoying to me.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:19 AM on January 13, 2012


It would be nuts to roll out their own people on the ground to do sales in africa, or even use an indian call center. This is a contractor doing sales.

Google is famous for doing everything themselves. For example, those guys driving around streetview cars taking pictures? Google employees, not contractors.
posted by ryanrs at 10:21 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I read the Mocality post correctly, the only evidence connecting 74.125.63.33 to the scam is that IP address was used to visit some of his customers' websites who were contacted by the scam. OK, well, great! Google accesses a lot of websites; I bet if he looks he'll find GoogleBot visited all those sites too.

You're not reading it correctly. They setup a "sting" for each IP address identified, so that their server would send fake phone numbers for businesses to that particular IP address. So the person who called their phony number saying he was from Google India is also the person that got the number from the website using that IP.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:24 AM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


related: Google Punishes Itself for Violating Own Rules (Slate)
posted by gen at 10:24 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If the IP was from a Google Translate intermediary, I would expect the user agent to be either the original user's user agent, or more likely, "google translationbot" or some such. The user agent in the blog posts looks more like a standard Google corp workstation (Chrome on Linux).
posted by ryanrs at 10:28 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The interesting part of this story is how quickly people believe Google is so evil and greedy that they'd scam a few hundred bucks from businesses in Kenya.

Why Google Bothered to Appeal a $761 Small Claims Case (and Won)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or it could be a rogue employee in Hyderabad

They've contacted thousands of businesses; around thirty percent of a database that's between 100,000 to 170,000 businesses.

Must be one hell of an employee.
posted by aramaic at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Does the google translate option suggested in Hacker News seem unlikely, as the browsers were using very new versions of chrome, running on linux?

I don't know what the guy on Hacker News did, but I went to Google Translate, translated my personal webpage, and the log showed my browser's user agent as it always is but with a "(via translate.google.com)" attached at the end:

[13/Jan/2012:19:22:56 +0100] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 1273 200 "Opera/9.80 (X11; Linux x86_64; U; en) Presto/2.9.168 Version/11.51,gzip(gfe) (via translate.google.com)" "http://translate.google.com/translate_p?act=url&hl=en&ie=UTF8&prev=_t&sl=en&tl=de&twu=1&u=[WWW.DOMAINGOESHERE.COM]&usg=JLkJmhjpaeGtfnE7ZPVWOZglLGmRSqhhvA"
posted by cmonkey at 10:31 AM on January 13, 2012


Regarding the IP- what if the traffic were coming from some random dude hosted on AppEngine?
posted by Jpfed at 10:31 AM on January 13, 2012


I switched to Bing as my primary search engine a few months ago. It works great. I occasionally pop over to Google for a search, but that's pretty rare and it's easy enough when I need it.

I'm very happy to avoid giving Google my traffic. They just can't be trusted any more. They have too much power and they're using it in bad ways.
posted by alms at 10:34 AM on January 13, 2012


burnmp3s: I read the post again, and I think I'm reading it right. The "sting" with the fake phone numbers was for visitors from 41.203.221.138 which appears to be in Kenya. After the visits from Google's Hyderabad IP 74.125.63.33 he says "we re-enabled the Sting code", but it doesn't specify for what visitors or IPs got the Sting phone number. The only evidence he states connecting the Google IP to the scam is that those IPs visited several of his customers.
posted by Nelson at 10:35 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, I think what's most interesting in this discussion on Metafilter (and the rest of the Internet shitstorm today) is that so many people would readily believe Google, as a matter of corporate policy, would scam a company in Kenya like this. Google used to be a company people loved and respected. Now it's much more frequently criticized. Often for reasonable things, like the aggressive Google+ rollout or the flip-flopping on Android openness or the too-smart-for-our-good ad placements. It still surprises me to see those legitimate concerns about Google spill out into stuff that seems very unlikely, like this supposed scam.

It's particularly painful for me to see this change; I worked at Google 2001–2006. "Don't be Evil" isn't some marketing slogan, it really was (and is) the corporate ethos and my colleagues sincerely endeavored to live up to it. But Google has also become a giant company and undoubtedly does some wrong in the world now. I just hate to see its reputation consumed by cynicism.
posted by Nelson at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, how times change. People are trumpeting switching from Google for being "too evil" to Microsoft's Bing. Microsoft, of course, being renowned for their dedication to goodness.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Nelson, if they were now getting hits from 74.125.63.33 it would have been kind of stupid to re-enable the sting for 41.203.221.138. Also, the callers from the second wave of the sting had Indian accents and names.
posted by localroger at 10:43 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


After the visits from Google's Hyderabad IP 74.125.63.33 he says "we re-enabled the Sting code", but it doesn't specify for what visitors or IPs got the Sting phone number. The only evidence he states connecting the Google IP to the scam is that those IPs visited several of his customers.

It's not explicitly stated as it was for the 41.203.221.138 address, but my reading of it is once they got the 74.125.63.33 address, they setup the Sting code to change it from 41.203.221.138 to 74.125.63.33. It's not possible for them to have gone back to using Sting on 41.203.221.138 because by that time all traffic had stopped from that address. And it's unlikely in my opinion that there was another IP address that they used the String code on because it would make no sense for them to not include it in the post when they included all of the other technical evidence.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2012


Google very much being the new Microsoft in that any kind of vague accusation against them gets instant credibility as well.
posted by Artw at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


This accusation doesn't seem to be especially vague.
posted by red clover at 10:47 AM on January 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


If we're going to go the scam route, it'd be far more interesting if this was created whole cloth by Mocana to blackmail/discredit Google in Kenya.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:49 AM on January 13, 2012


Perhaps it's time to admit that "Don't Be Evil" is fundamentally impossible for a large international corporation in the 21st century.
posted by tommasz at 10:50 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I strongly expect this to end up like the incident in gen's Slate link, with an admission that things were done against Google policy, responsibility taken, and some positive action to make amends. I note that unlike what a lot of companies would have done, they didn't publicly burn an employee in that incident; they took responsibility and arranged consequences as an organization.

It's simply not possible to police an organization the size of Google for all rogue activities like this. If there's a local Kenyan division, how does the top man in the country of Kenya rate on the organizational chart back in the US? I'd guess not very high, but such a person would probably have enough authority to set a scheme like this in motion. The answer to "what are your employees doing all day" would be "cold calling to drum up business" -- which would actually be true, except for omitting the part about where you're getting the numbers to call.
posted by localroger at 10:53 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


People are trumpeting switching from Google for being "too evil" to Microsoft's Bing. Microsoft, of course, being renowned for their dedication to goodness.

Yes, but Microsoft also has a reputation for complete incompetence. At one point they were *good* at evil, but especially with respect to the internet they've had one flop after another.

Google on the other hand shows bursts of true competence. I don't like competent evil. It scares me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:54 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


This accusation doesn't seem to be especially vague.

Yeah, that is a silly thing to say. It'd only be said by someone who hasn't read the post, clearly. The details are anything but vague.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:56 AM on January 13, 2012


Well, they've admitted it was them (see BoingBoing for the admission)

I'll be interested to see what the consequences are. Were it me (and this is why I do not run a company), I'd probably terminate the entire project and most of the associated team.
posted by aramaic at 10:58 AM on January 13, 2012


The answer to "what are your employees doing all day" would be "cold calling to drum up business" -- which would actually be true, except for omitting the part about where you're getting the numbers to call.

And also the part about committing fraud by claiming that you work for a company they do business with when in fact you work for a competitor of that company.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:00 AM on January 13, 2012


The initial statement from 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 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.
I'd say that's a good step. I'll even pat myself on the back for the Papa John's comparison above. This pretty much mirrors that.
posted by red clover at 11:00 AM on January 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


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 unreservedly apologised to Mocality.

Well, I congratulate them on the complete lack of weaseltry in that statement.
posted by yoink at 11:03 AM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yuck, well, that sucks. So now we have to see how bad the damage is and how Google makes it right. Mocality says 30% of their customers have been contacted, as aramaic noted above that's a lot of action and not just a single "rogue employee".

I still have to believe the folks running the company in Mountain View are absolutely furious and will make this right. I hope they move fast.

(PS: I'm not Nelson Mattos of Google who talked to BoingBoing.)
posted by Nelson at 11:04 AM on January 13, 2012


This is clearly the work of Google Nigeria
posted by phaedon at 11:08 AM on January 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Google is famous for doing everything themselves. For example, those guys driving around streetview cars taking pictures? Google employees, not contractors.

They seem to have some contractors. We had an FPP about how evil google is to contractors not so long ago. It was about
ScanOps


I have no real knowlege so I defer to you guys. Still think it is nuts for them to hire people in Kenya if they could outsource it.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:08 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I switched to Bing as my primary search engine a few months ago. It works great. I occasionally pop over to Google for a search, but that's pretty rare and it's easy enough when I need it.

I'm very happy to avoid giving Google my traffic. They just can't be trusted any more. They have too much power and they're using it in bad ways.


So you switched to Microsoft?!? That's like going from the Yankees to the Red Sox because you don't like teams buying a championship!
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 11:11 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Given the Indian call center connection one wonders just how many services around the world have been targeted. It seems unlikely that this is an isolated incident.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:18 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


They just can't be trusted any more. They have too much power and they're using it in bad ways.

So you switched to Microsoft?!?


I'm not so sure. I get the feeling that Google evil is ramping up because they're complacent because they think they're just naturally good and don't have to worry about it.
Whereas MS evil is not ramping up, and might even be ramping down, because they're painfully aware they have a image problem, and really want to address it.

(Noting of course, that neither is monolithic, and the left arm is doing good while the right arm is doing evil, and the brain doesn't know what the hell is going on anywhere any more)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:18 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sadly, this seems to be the direction Google has been heading since last summer when it became obvious even to a hermit like myself.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:19 AM on January 13, 2012


Microsoft, of course, being renowned for their dedication to goodness.

I'd say that the Gates Foundation more than makes up for any horrible UIs and questionable antitrust violations for bundling an internet browser with an OS.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:24 AM on January 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Given the Indian call center connection one wonders just how many services around the world have been targeted. It seems unlikely that this is an isolated incident.

It does sound like this is part of a particular project (Getting Kenyan Businesses Online), so it wouldn't surprise me if the people in charge of that project came up with this bright idea rather than it being an endemic problem within the company. It sounds like they were running things in Kenya and then moved it over to India, and if this was an established thing at Google that they used for multiple projects I would think they would have just done it in India to begin with.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:25 AM on January 13, 2012


BTW, Google Hyderabad isn't just a call center; it's a pretty big satellite office, including significant numbers of engineers and product managers. You can get an idea what all goes on there by looking at its job listings.
posted by Nelson at 11:30 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd say that the Gates Foundation more than makes up for any horrible UIs and questionable antitrust violations for bundling an internet browser with an OS.

I would agree--although I would also note that the Gates Foundation has pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Bing's corporate owners conduct their business ethically or not. Gates really has nothing much to do with Microsoft nowadays.

I think it would be just as silly to switch from Bing to Google the next time some ethical lapse by Microsoft hits the headlines as it is to switch from Google to Bing over this. If your rule of thumb is "I will do no business with any corporation any of whose agents are ever caught acting in a less than scrupulously honest way" you are really resigning yourself to being a hermit or a hypocrite.
posted by yoink at 11:37 AM on January 13, 2012


It sounds like they were running things in Kenya and then moved it over to India [...]

I was thinking about that, but the logistics seem a bit difficult.

I suppose if the Kenyan team outright lied to the Indian team (as well as providing them the scripts for their calls) then it could be done.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2012


If your rule of thumb is "I will do no business with any corporation any of whose agents are ever caught acting in a less than scrupulously honest way" you are really resigning yourself to being a hermit or a hypocrite.

And if your rule of thumb is "I will move my eyeballs away from the last company to screw up, so as to make clear there are consequences for screwing up"?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:40 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I don't like competent evil. It scares me.
> posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:54 PM on January 13 [+] [!]

Yeah, that's why I'm a Democrat.
posted by goethean at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would agree--although I would also note that the Gates Foundation has pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Bing's corporate owners conduct their business ethically or not. Gates really has nothing much to do with Microsoft nowadays.

Right. But I really don't think MS has done anything at all remotely considered to be "evil" in the last say, 15 years. And all of that was pointed directly at Gates himself most of the time. Even the questionable stuff they/he did back then seems very tame to what goes on these days.

At any rate, I didn't switch because of this, or any other ethical dilemma, their search results have really sucked for me lately.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:42 AM on January 13, 2012


Well thank god the pitchforks were justified this time. That'll make it so much easier to whip them out next time.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 11:42 AM on January 13, 2012


But I really don't think MS has done anything at all remotely considered to be "evil" in the last say, 15 years.

That seems very unlikely. They just stopped being Darth Vader, so we stopped caring all that much what they do. If this Google story had happened in the early days when they were everyone's darling the tenor of this thread would be "gosh, those poor Google execs being screwed over by a rogue division in that way--but YAY for how quickly and bluntly they've addressed the problem." If Google is a humbled giant like Microsoft in fifteen years, the same story would probably not even make the front page. It's not as if minor corporate malfeasance stories of this kind (which happen every day, after all) attract any attention beyond the business papers for the most part. We all jump on this one solely because we're all primed to care about Google. It's the Former Favorite that's becoming the New Oligarch, so our interest in everything they do is wildly overdetermined.
posted by yoink at 11:48 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you switched to Microsoft?!? That's like going from the Yankees to the Red Sox because you don't like teams buying a championship!

I'm not Microsoft's hugest cheerleader, but it's quite possible to rationalize such a decision apart from any value judgements about the two companies.

Google's primary -- indeed, you could argue sole -- source of income is data about its users. As with facebook the user, not the site, is the product. As such, it has a strong incentive (even a responsibility, from the standpoint of shareholder value) to monetize data about its users in any way possible. This is simply not true for Microsoft. While their users are certainly valuable sources of data (and Microsoft undoubtedly seeks to profit from that data), that data is not their sole source, nor even a dominant source, of income. There's simply less incentive for Microsoft to push the boundaries of its users' privacy than there is for Google. If you're considering handing over private data to one of these two companies, then, there may well be a strong argument for handing it to the one marginally less-incented to sell that data.
posted by multics at 11:53 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Don't be evil" is a relic from before the IPO.

Nowadays, Google has Wall Street profit projections to meet or exceed, or the stock price will fall-- perhaps precipitously-- diminishing the net worth of everyone associated with Google.

"Don't be so surprised we're evil" should be the new motto.
posted by jamjam at 11:54 AM on January 13, 2012


I don't get the talk of torches and pitchforks. Does any criticism equal lynch-mobbing?

Mocality would seem to have a legal claim against Google. From Mocality's blog (to the extent it's been confirmed by Google), it appears that Google employees performed actions that arguably cost Mocality time and money. It doesn't mean Mocality can sue Google for $500 million, but it would mean that they have a claim to recover whatever damages they can show.

From there, I just see a lot of people criticizing Google in really, really vague terms. "They do do evil, heh-heh," etc. By contrast, when a guy was rude to a customer (who himself escalated) about some video-game controller, people on MetaFilter were posting the guy's name, personal info, alleging that he was physically abuse to women, talking about burning his life to the ground, etc. Now that was a lynch mob.

If corporations aren't people, then surely Google can handle a little Internet flak.
posted by red clover at 11:57 AM on January 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


But I really don't think MS has done anything at all remotely considered to be "evil" in the last say, 15 years.

Isn't the Bing we're talking about the one that copied Google's search results?
posted by inigo2 at 12:05 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"If corporations aren't people, then surely Google can handle a little Internet flak."
posted by red clover at 1:57 PM on January 13

LEAVE GOOGLE ALOOOOOOOONE!
posted by symbioid at 12:08 PM on January 13, 2012


I don't get the talk of torches and pitchforks. Does any criticism equal lynch-mobbing?

I get irritated at the credulity on display whenever a wild accusation is made. Mocality's case was shaky at best, even if it did turn out to be true. But since it was true, this episode will reinforce people's tendency to believe.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 12:12 PM on January 13, 2012


Mocality's case was shaky at best,

They're getting phone calls from Google India claiming that Google and Mocana were in partnership and their case is "shaky"?

Tough crowd.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:14 PM on January 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


We are all Kenyans now.
posted by chavenet at 12:19 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm only half-Kenyan, and I've got the long form birth certificate to prove it!
posted by hincandenza at 12:23 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


They're getting phone calls from Google India claiming that Google and Mocana were in partnership and their case is "shaky"?

Google HQ admits to malfeasance and people still argue that Mocality's case is shaky. Heh.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 PM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


So you switched to Microsoft?!? That's like going from the Yankees to the Red Sox because you don't like teams buying a championship!

Google's near-monopoly in the search market gives them too much power. They literally have control over what information is available to people.

That in itself is a problem. It is made worse by Google's habit of abusing this power. We've seen it over and over again: they use their market power to promote their own businesses and services to the detriment of others.

I don't want Google effectively controlling the definition of reality by controlling what is visible in 90-something percent of the browsers in the world. They need competition. Right now that competition is Bing.

Yes, it's odd in a way moving over to Microsoft. I'm sure Microsoft would be just as evil as Google if they could be. But they can't anymore, that's the point. Microsoft is a has-been company that is still making lots of money from legacy products. But they aren't controlling the world and they aren't a threat to free society the way any company with a monopoly on search would be.
posted by alms at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2012


Mocality's case was actually very solid; the only other reasonable possibility was that the whole story was a complete fabrication on Mocality's part, which might seem more likely if Mocality was some unknown startup but it didn't take much digging to see that they are a major player in their part of the world and such a fabrication would have destroyed their own rather valuable reputation.

As it turned out this is almost exactly what I wrote I expected upthread; a group small enough to go unnoticed by upper management but large enough to have the authority to run an operation of this size simply did it without oversight. It is almost impossible to run an organization the size of Google without leaving such opportunities open. What determines the character of the company is not that such things occasionally happen, but what the company does once the highest management is made aware of the situation.
posted by localroger at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm only half-Kenyan, and I've got the long form birth certificate to prove it!

You had to go there, didn't you. We're going to be hearing about that damn birth certificate for the next 10 months and you couldn't wait to get started.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:43 PM on January 13, 2012


Dunno man. There is still speculation that the "team of people" implies that it is contractors.

Still some speculation I have a good chance to be proved right.

Anyway, google fessed up. Whether it is employees or contractors is really immaterial.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2012


Google isn't at fault for anything because I like Google so there
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:04 PM on January 13, 2012


Google is famous for doing everything themselves. For example, those guys driving around streetview cars taking pictures? Google employees, not contractors.

Not quite true. They most definitely have contractors driving the street view cars in (at least some) foreign countries.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:13 PM on January 13, 2012


I'd say that the Gates Foundation more than makes up for any horrible UIs and questionable antitrust violations for bundling an internet browser with an OS.

Oh well I guess the Digital e-mail contract kefuffel, the Mosaic revenue misrepresentation, the $5 bundling of MS-DOS which broke the alternative OS market, Seattle Micro contract kefuffel, screwing stacker and statements like 'it don't ship 'till Lotus doesn't work' - they are somehow not worthy of notice?

Because it strikes me the Gates Foundation money comes from many sins over a far longer time than what little was made off of the browser.

And its a sad commentary that allows one to screw over a bunch of people for money then "oh, its all OK - you made a charity".
posted by rough ashlar at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


BoingBoing

Cory's outrage is amusing here since he seems to have no problem with organizations like Pirate Bay who steal data all the time.
posted by Ratio at 1:24 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll declare an interest, as Stef's a friend, but I'm not privy to any information that isn't already public, and the following opinions are very much my own.

From Mocality's blog (to the extent it's been confirmed by Google), it appears that Google employees performed actions that arguably cost Mocality time and money.

I think the bigger cost is in terms of goodwill, which is probably why the decision was made to go public rather than have the two companies' lawyers scrap it out behind the scenes. While there's a lot of shit talked about Africa as a kind of tech Wild West, with a whole load of ugly extrapolations from 419 scams, this kind of operation clearly undermines Mocality's attempts to build up the confidence of its userbase -- and its business model of rewarding contributors to its listings directory -- by claiming a non-existent relationship in order to make an upsell.

It's fair play -- aggressive, but fair -- for Google to use Mocality's listings to call up its customers and pitch what they consider to be a better deal. (Ratio? Way to miss the point.) It's not fair play to misrepresent the basis of that deal.
posted by holgate at 1:29 PM on January 13, 2012


And its a sad commentary that allows one to screw over a bunch of people for money then "oh, its all OK - you made a charity".

So you agree Microsoft was a scam to steal money from rich Americans and use it to cure Malaria?

Sonds positively Robin Hoodish to me.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:30 PM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nelson Mattos of Google posted the same admission of responsibility on Google+. No new information from Google there (yet) but the reply from Joshua Mwaniki of Mocality is interesting.
posted by Nelson at 1:39 PM on January 13, 2012


Richard Champlin - Personally this seems very orchestrated by Mocality. It doesn't seem wrong to look up a company in an online directory and then call that company. Just wondering how everyone who is so upset would do it? Go door to door in Kenya? Heck, Mocality is part of a multinational conglomerate and runs its site off Amazon's cloud in Ireland. Not exactly a local startup by my definition. The calls/transcripts are the "sting" calls and represent the best "confessions" Mocality could induce, it seems.

joshua mwaniki - Richard Champling...I couldnt hold back from commenting on your accusations that we may have ochestrated this deliberately. I head the Mocality team in Kenya...and we did not 'Ochestrate' this. Building a directory in Africa isnt as easy as just going around and knocking on doors. Our success was largely based on our ability to build and maintain a large agent network (15,000+ strong). These agents collect information that forms the bulk of our directory. However, for the agents...work isnt as simple as going around and knocking on doors. A lot of the population is still very suspicious about the internet and new technologies. People have fallen prey to scams for merely giving out their cell phone numbers...people are kidnapped etc.

Agents have the task of building trust with business owners in many cases just to extract their correct business details. Convincing them of the 'need' to be online, is not as easy as it seems. To facilitate this, the Mocality team in Kenya spends a lot of time travelling around, holding agent and business seminars and slowly turning our name and mission into something the local business person can trust.

Therefore...when google launch a new product like KBO into the market, it is quite clear to us in the country, that they would have similar hurdles to climb when recruiting businesses. These hurdles are in some way a competitive advantage to us, as we've already spent tons of man hours going past them. Google would still need to build the trust...and the business owner would need to be comfortable working with them.

For Mocality, the businesses trust our agents and we use our agents to introduce products to them. Therefore, when google employees/agents call and say that we are working together, they are taking advantage of the relationship of trust we have worked so hard to build...in order to release their product easily into the market.
(emph. added)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:47 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


And Joshua Mwaniki's reply backs up my thinking: Mocality's key grievance is that these kinds of misrepresentations exploit and undermine the trust that the company and its local agents have built up. They're also tone-deaf and self-defeating for Google's attempts to establish their own credibility in Kenya.
posted by holgate at 1:53 PM on January 13, 2012


Google isn't at fault for anything because I like Google so there

Apple. You mean Apple.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:25 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, it's no Bhopal, but it's still corporate evil.

...put another way, making money is more important than ethics.

Business. Ethics.
Two words that are oxymoronic when linked.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:23 PM on January 13, 2012


Wait, Apple ripped off a Kenyan company? Whoa, The Register really needs to work on their spelling. I totally thought it was Google.
posted by aramaic at 3:37 PM on January 13, 2012


Google: "We believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site."
posted by greenhornet at 4:11 PM on January 13, 2012


Wait, Apple ripped off a Kenyan company?

Want to know something else about Jobs and Obama? We've never seen *either* of their long form birth certificates.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:20 PM on January 13, 2012


So you agree

No.

Microsoft was a scam to steal money from rich Americans and use it to cure Malaria?
Sonds positively Robin Hoodish to me.


Sure, esp. the parts where Robin Hood moved into a home with a stainless steel roof and made sure the takings from the rich lined Old Robin's pocket 1st.

That and posing for the teens - it was done better by Robin Hood
posted by rough ashlar at 6:13 PM on January 13, 2012


Still on track.
posted by flabdablet at 11:31 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Previously, about the secret Google building full of yellow-badge contractors.
posted by eye of newt at 12:08 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


(just noticed Ad Hominem already posted it--Ugh. I'm tired, time for bed).
posted by eye of newt at 12:11 AM on January 14, 2012


everybody go search google + mocality ... that'll get their attention
posted by fistynuts at 12:55 AM on January 14, 2012


Previously, about the secret Google building full of yellow-badge contractors.

Wow, what a thread. I can't believe I didn't see that before. There are times when this place is so laughably, ridiculously, unbelievably, shockingly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly hypocritical. Just when it seems like it can't get worse, a subset of this site surprises me, all over again.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:04 AM on January 14, 2012


I think they prefer to be called hypsters.
posted by darkstar at 9:13 AM on January 14, 2012


Kenya has a comparatively well-educated but poor population and high levels of unemployment. Mocality designed our crowd sourcing program to provide an opportunity for large numbers of people to help themselves by helping us. By apparently systematically trawling our database, and then outsourcing that trawl to another continent, Google isn’t just scalping us, they’re also scalping every Kenyan who has participated in our program.
posted by infini at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google is the latecomer in this market. If you've not already looked it up, Mocality is part of the Naspers group. I've met Stefan at a conference about six months ago in Nairobi, he's the Africa head for three of Nasper's assets - Dealfish, Mocality and Kalahari. This is bullshit and I'd be interested to see how Google handles this.
posted by infini at 10:48 AM on January 14, 2012


One more thought (since this whole thread came up while I was flying to Nairobi) is that no matter or who, this incident will have great impact on Google's brand across the tech communities in this region. Big bad corporate looking to gobble startups? check.
posted by infini at 10:56 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh the irony...

Accra, Jan. 13, GNA - Google Ghana on Friday launched “Africa, Get Your Business Online”, an initiative to bring most Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) online in the next two years. check most recent comment

I can't help but think about this... Google has the financial muscle and reach to have really made a difference. If it hadn't been systematic scraping over time, one could have imagined that it might be an attempt at sabotage. Schadenfreude (on big$$) aside, its sad and wasteful, given what needs to be done online in Sub Sahara.

Otoh, I wonder if its time Google put their data driven design thinking aside and tried a human centered approach. Relationships and trust are key in this market, this aspect has been mentioned in most of the blog posts on this topic - that essentially, Google or whoever teh perps are, traded upon Mocality's carefully built up trust over time via face to face contacts and relationship building and the natural result of such things happened. Its been said that it would have been considered 'fair play' if a tad aggressive if it had simply been going after Mocality's database but to claim a partnership (to trade upon their brandname and trust) is dirty dealing.

Still, I'm looking forward to Monday...
posted by infini at 12:17 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The latest not evil:
Preliminary results show users from Google IP address ranges in India deleting, moving and abusing OSM [Open Street Map] data including subtle edits like reversing one-way streets.
Clearly Google is still ramping up their competence level when it comes to evil.
posted by alms at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Be sure to read the comments on that OpenStreetMap blog post. Also Google's response is on CNET: "The two people who made these changes were contractors acting on their own behalf while on the Google network. They are no longer working on Google projects."
posted by Nelson at 12:51 PM on January 17, 2012


Google Fires Kenya Lead Over Mocality.
posted by Nelson at 11:03 AM on January 30, 2012


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