Google faces fresh attention amid claims of antitrust-style behavior with its Google+ search integration today, after accusations that it has been fraudulently attempting to muscle out a Kenyan local services startup. Mocality Kenya, a business database company that uses paid crowdsourcing to flesh out its entries, discovered what appears to be evidence that Google’s Getting Kenyan Businesses Online has been carrying out “a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent … attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on 2 continents.”
Mocality had noticed a rising number of calls from businesses asking for help with “their websites”, but were left confused as that wasn’t a service they in fact offered. Digging through the server logs they found evidence that a team of people – from Google IP addresses – had been “systematically accessing” business contact details.
After tweaking the database to give a false phone number to some visitors from that IP – in fact, the number of Mocality’s own call center – the company recorded people claiming to be from Google Kenya, working in partnership with Mocality, and offering to set up business sites for them (as well as sell them a domain). Those calls ceased in late December, before starting up again from what appeared to be an Indian call center; some stat digging turned up evidence it was a Google India location.
As of January 11, Mocality says, it appears 30-percent of its database has been contacted. Google is yet to comment on the accusations, but with its search practices and attitude toward other businesses’ data coming under increasing attention from regulators, this isn’t likely to help the company maintain its “do no evil” reputation.
Update: Google has given us an official comment, which you can read here.