Google’s SPYW, Kenya Imbroglios An “Ink Blot” Test For Google As Good Or Evil

I woke up this morning to discover some fairly outrageous allegations against Google in Kenya. Local search/directory startup Mocality says that Google crawled its site for local business sales leads and then falsely claimed in cold calls to those businesses it had a partnership with the publisher to sign them up. Mocality founder Stefan Magdalinski explains in a blog post that his company conducted a “sting” against Google and offers evidence of his claims against the company. Google says it’s investigating.

Beyond unethical there’s a question about the legality of the behavior if proven to be true. Google says it’s investigating and sent us this statement:

These are clearly very serious allegations, and we are doing everything possible to investigate them.

(See updated statement from Google below.)

While the evidence presented by Magdalinski is very detailed and seems credible, I still have some trouble believing that Google would officially authorize a systematic campaign of fraud like this. Others have no trouble believing it and accept the allegations as true –  because many of those people believe Google has crossed over to the dark side.

One executive I spoke with the other day about something largely unrelated to Google told me he thought that Google would emerge as, “The most evil company the world has ever known.” That’s a verbatim statement. It’s pretty amazing and extreme but one hears these sorts of things now. This kind of venom used to be reserved almost exclusively for Microsoft in its antitrust heyday (e.g., “the evil empire”).

Google has in the past couple of years (and especially very recently) become a polarizing company. Among tech insiders, increasingly it seems you’re either a critic or a fan. I try to be objective in my view of Google (although I’ve been accused of being a “fanboy”). But I do tend to give the company the benefit of the doubt, unless the evidence suggests otherwise.

The Kenya controversy and the Search Plus Your World (SPYW) uproar have emerged as a sort of Rorschach test.

Google says that it intends to include much more social content into SPYW over time, including Twitter and Facebook, if those services will allow. But many people see Google simply promoting Google+ at the expense of others and tend to be extremely cynical about Google’s motives and behavior. (I find it strange that Google would so nakedly attempt to push Google+ given how directly that plays into its critics’ hands.)

The same is true this morning with the Kenya controversy. Some people simply accept that Google is guilty because they now view Google as the type of company willing to do the kinds of things claimed by Mocality. However I think there needs to be more information before anyone can reasonably conclude what happened.

The larger point here, however, is that people are increasingly inclined to leap to conclusions about Google based on their fundamental belief that the company is good or “evil.” More and more they project on to the Google ink blot whatever they want to see.

Postscript: Google apparently discovered the Mocality allegations to be accurate and issued the following statement, by Nelson Mattos, Vice-President for Product and Engineering, Europe and Emerging Markets:

“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 apologized 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.”

Also see our A “Mortified” Google Apologizes To Mocality For Poaching Customers, Lying About Relationship story.

Ink blot image via Shutterstock

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Features: Analysis | Google: Critics | Google: Google+ | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Durant Imboden

    Microsoft yesterday, Google today, Facebook or somebody else tomorrow.

    Power may or may not corrupt, but it does tend to attract hatred.

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