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Kenyan startup claims Google 'scalped' its data after staging a STING

Google smacks back: Mocality's data was 'publicly available'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google has been accused of "fraudulently" accessing a rival Kenya-based business listings database and then attempting to sell the internet giant's competing GKBO product to that customerbase.

That's the remarkable claim made by Stefan Magdalinski of startup Mocality.

The outfit alleges that some of Google's staff based in both Kenya and India had contacted nearly 30 per cent of the people listed on Mocality's database as of 11 January.

The evidence provided by Magdalinski is certainly compelling as it appears to have caught Google employees acting inappropriately.

"Our database IS our business, and we protect and tend it very carefully. We spot and block automated attacks, amongst other measures. We regularly contact our business owners, to help them keep their records up-to-date, and they are welcome to contact our call centre team for help whenever they need it," said Magdalinski, who told The Register that he was yet to hear from Google, following publication of his damning blog post earlier today.

He noted that Google launched its Getting Kenyan Businesses Online (GKBO) site in September last year.

"Whilst we saw aspects of their programme that were competitive, we welcomed the initiative, as Kenya still has enough growth in it that every new entrant helps the overall market," Magdalinski wrote.

"We are also confident enough in our product, our local team, and our deep local commitment that we believe we can hold our own against any competition, playing fair."

But according to Magdalinski's claim, Google has - since October 2011 - allegedly 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."

Initially, Mocality's boss thought a "rogue" call centre employee at Google was responsible for the apparent misdeed. He planned to contact Mountain View and tell the company that an individual was violating its terms and conditions.

But an investigation of its server logs carried out by Mocality uncovered what Magdalinski described as "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."

He acknowledged that Google's search was vital to Mocality's business, whose directory is designed specifically for mobile phone users in Kenya.

But Magdalinski, who co-founded Silicon Roundabout's celebrated business card startup Moo.com, isn't happy with Mountain View.

"Kenya has a comparatively well-educated but poor population and high levels of unemployment. Mocality designed our crowd-sourcing programme to provide an opportunity for large numbers of people to help themselves by helping us," said Mocality's CEO.

"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 programme."

A Google spokesman gave The Register this statement: "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 reason that Google describes the data as "publicly available" is probably due to the fact that the business listing built up by Mocality was stitched together using a crowd-sourcing method, which might yet prove to be a stumbling block for Magdalinski in this whole sorry affair.

However Magdalinski alleges that Google representatives lied by telling punters they were working in collaboration with Mocality - a claim that he admits is "deadly serious". ®

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