Google has been accused of tampering with the data in open source map website, Open Street Map. This comes hot on the heels of Google's apology to Kenyan business directory Mocality, whose data Google scraped and used as the basis of a dishonest cold calling campaign. In both cases, the source of at least some of the activity was from a range of IP addresses belonging to Google India.
In blog post from Open Street Map, whose map data is gathered and edited by users, founder Steve Coast and his colleagues yesterday said:
Preliminary results [of OSM’s investigation] show users from Google IP address ranges in India deleting, moving and abusing OSM data including subtle edits like reversing one-way streets.
Two OpenStreetMap accounts have been vandalizing OSM in London, New York and elsewhere from Google’s IP address, the same address in India reported by Mocality.
Although Coast said that the organisation had yet to complete a full analysis, they had already discovered a previous 102,000 hits (sic) from at least 17 accounts from this Google IP address over the last year.
Read Write Web reports that the kinds of malicious changes made from Google India’s network included “moving and deleting information and reversing the direction of one-way streets on the map.”
Google told Read Write Web:
"We're aware of OpenStreetMap's claims that vandalism of OSM is occurring from accounts originating at a Google IP address. We are investigating the matter and will have more information as soon as possible."
This accusation comes immediately after a similar post from Kenyan business directory Mocality, which has a database of about 170,000 companies many of which do not have websites. Mocality CEO Stefan Magdalinski wrote a detailed description of the investigation that the company had carried out after learning that some of their customers had received strange calls from Google. The tech giant had launched a competing service, Getting Kenyan Businesses Online (GKBO).
Magdalinski describes how Mocality found evidence that Google Kenya had been systematically combing through their business directory, probably by hand, and then phoning companies to tout for business. The Google representatives identified themselves as such, then maligned Mocality, saying that they engage in bait-and-switch practices and charge Kenyan businesses for listings, neither of which is true. The aim seemed to be to up-sell services from GKBO.
Activity then shifted from Google Kenya to Google India. Mocality put a fake phone number into some records to route Google’s salespeople through to Mocality’s own number, and recorded the call. Here is Deepthi, from Google India, saying that Mocality has a partnership with GKBO, which is not the case.
Google’s Nelson Mattos has publicly apologised to Mocality and promised to investigate:
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.
Questions remain in both cases. Were any Google employees involved in these cases or was it down to poorly supervised subcontractors in Kenya and/or India? In his blog post update about Google’s apology Magdalinski says:
Apparently, the calls were made by a 3rd party vendor. I can see how this was the case for the activity we saw in Kenya, but the Indian activity seemed to come from Google’s own network. I know (from friends who are Googlers) how preciously that network is guarded. How was a 3rd party given access to it?
How far up Google’s food chain did knowledge of this wrongdoing go? Who authorised it? And what will Google do about it?
If Google wants people to take seriously it’s motto Don’t Be Evil, it has to be squeaky clean not just in the US, but in other countries as well, particularly ones where corruption is routine. Unethical behaviour by people working under the Google banner, whether as employees or subcontractors, must be dealt with swiftly and comprehensively, regardless of their location.