Back in 2009 I was on a panel at SMX London. At the end of the session, during the Q&A we were asked the question who we believed would be the ‘Google Killer’. My answer back then was “The only one who can kill Google, is Google itself”. If you look at the start of 2012 you might think Google is doing just that. Within two weeks time Google has been hit a few times, which Barry describes nicely on his personal blog. After Manipulating +1 Upvotes, link buying for Chrome and last weeks allegations in Kenya Google now again faces allegations. This time they are accused of ‘vandalizing Open Street Map’. Last week we saw Google taking a big hit when it became clear that in Kenya Google had crawled a local directory and then cold called businesses in that database. The allegations seemed to be true because the people from Mocality showed that ip-adresses coming from Google were indeed scraping their databases. The calls made afterwards can’t be pinpointed to specific Google employees, but because Google apologized you can at least assume that Google did something wrong there and that they at least are responsible. Now new accusations arise. Coming from OpenGeoData.org. In a post yesterday they say two OpenStreetMap accounts have been vandalizing Open Street Maps. Now that is not uncommon, but the ip-addresses which were tracked are supposedly the same Google IP address in India as reported last week by Mocality… It seems as if “Google” is at it again. A user, called “Kane123” was making changes to the OMS program which were noted by moderators. Simply said: they made changes to the maps which were fictional, not true, they didn’t exist. They were blocked and sent an e-mail saying:
“Dear kane123, we have received a complaint about your recent edits in the London area. It seems that you have uploaded fictional road network data to OpenStreetMap, and we have reverted these edits. Please be aware that anything you upload will appear on our main map without further checks – this is not a sandbox, this is the real thing!”
The strange thing about the story is that OSM claims that the Google IP is not a one time visit:
“the last year we have had over 102 thousand hits on OSM using at least 17 accounts from this Google IP.”
It seems as if it was not a one-off mistake, but a planned out corruption. Why would Google do that?
Is it Google or someone else?
Now the big question here is off course: Is Google actually authorizing this kind of behavior? It seems hard to believe. The company which has “Do no Evil” as their motto would be absolutely crazy to instigate this. That would be suicide. The question is: are they? The problem which I think exists here is the unclear connections Google has in many countries. Google doesn’t have ’employees’ in every country, yet in many countries they use local businesses to partner with. Which means they sometimes lose grip. Take a look at their apology statement in the Kenya case:
“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.”
What highlighted for me was the fact that they learned that something was wrong and they call it “people working on a Google project“. Though not explicitly stated I think they hint that it wasn’t Google employees who were making these calls but a Google partner. At the same time however the strange thing is that they don’t mention that it actually is a partner. Why not? It would have been an ‘easy’ answer. Probably because they don’t know and they have lost control. It seems as if Google has lost control over their services. They might have grown to big. They cannot control what happens with their different partners and they seem to lose control over who uses their brand in what way. That could very well be a lot bigger problem than Google “doing evil” themselves. Because that they can control. Others are a lot harder to control. Google needs to get this kind of stuff straightened out quickly because if they don’t, they just might be slowly killing themselves.
Image Credit: Alex Moss