If you haven’t heard about Mocality, you should definitely check it out. It’s a Kenyan online business directory designed for promoting local enterprises (also the very small ones) and making them easily searchable on the net and mobile phones.

One of the (not-yet-implemented) ideas we have in Kariobangi is to encourage entrepreneurs to sign up with the website and making their businesses visible online.  I think that this will help them a lot. But this is another story.

I was shocked to read on Mocality Blog that Google’s new project “Getting Kenyan Businesses Online” (GKBO) contacted Mocality users and made up completely fake stories to steal their clients; until they got busted:

I’d like you to meet Douglas. On this call (first 2 minutes) you can clearly hear Douglas identify himself as Google Kenya employee, state, and then reaffirm, that GKBO is working in collaboration with Mocality, and that we are helping them with GKBO, before trying to offer the business owner a website (and upsell them a domain name). Over the 11 minutes of the whole call he repeatedly states that Mocality is with, or under (!) Google.

Between 10am and 1pm on December 21st, we received 6 others just like it (from 5 different Google Kenya employees) before switching back to normal service. We estimate that this team were calling 20-25 Mocality business per hour, since 7 calls over 3 hours, only 10% of calls redirected: 7*10/3= 23.3. calls/hour)

On all calls, the same script is followed – A Google Kenya employee calls a Mocality business and tries to deceive them into signing up for their competing product, by claiming that we are working together.

It gets worse: Here’s a complete transcript ( with translation of the kiSwahili portions) of a another call, in which the caller goes further, claiming that Mocality engages in bait-and-switch practices to try and charge businesses upto Ksh. 20,000 ($200) for their listings. Mocality has never and will never charge for listings. The irony: on the same call, the caller tries exactly that tactic for GKBO’s hosting fees.

Of course Google Kenya has to provide an explanation for its behaviour. For now I’ve only seen a scant mea culpa on 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.

Not enough, I would say. But it’s a start.