Four days ago this post appeared on Kenyan company Mocality’s website accusing Google of not only scraping mocality’s database, which is basically the most valuable part of their business, but also calling up the numbers in the scraped database to upsell them a Google site. Even worse, the Google employees claimed that Mocality was under or working with Google. This is certainly unethical, and may very well be illegal – Mocality is getting ready to sue. Mocality uncovered that this seemed to be an international operation involving Google headquarters and call centers in India.
The plot was unveiled in a rather clever way by Mocality, and the technical breakdown of how they caught Google with their pants down lent the blogpost a lot of credibility.
After a few hours it was confirmed that Google was involved with this statement from Nelson Mattos of 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.”
The story quickly spread and both the original blogpost and the reply from Mattos was top news on sites such as Hacker news, Reddit and Boing boing. It even made it as far as The economist. This is a big deal. Especially because this behaviour stands in stark contrast to Googles ethos of Don’t be evil.
Yet now, four days later, that’s all we know. We don’t even know whether the above is an official statement from Google since Nelson Mattos presumably posted this from his personal Google+ account.
This tells me a few things:
- Google is not entirely in control of all of their operations. If this scandal was contained to Kenya maybe it could be written off as a few fraudulent employees or a local manager that went a bit too far to get his bonus, but since it appears that it extends to both India and Googles headquarters in Mountain view there’s someone at a fairly high level that doesn’t have full control of his domain.
- Google doesn’t handle PR well. Writing, blogposts about new features, April fools jokes and descriptions of how great the food at Google is is the easy part. It’s when you have a scandal on your hands that your PR needs to shine. Where’s the damage control? Where’s the communication? We don’t even know if Mattos statement is official. It’s been four days!
- Google is becoming a big company, just like so many other big companies. They don’t know what is going on in all divisions, they’re spreading their portfolio thin (A Kenyan online directory for instance…), and they’re losing their original values because of it.
- Don’t be evil is not a mantra for Google anymore, it’s become a stale mission statement. Just like the stale mission statements all other big companies have.
When are we going to get an official excuse and explanation? Are we even going to get one?