Throughout the first half of 2019, MyBroadband had a number of encounters with a man called Shingi Mushipe, who is the CEO of a local company named Web9.
Web9 is a locally-produced search engine which was created by Mushipe to be “the Google of South Africa”.
After several years and a legal run-in with Google that resulted in the company being re-branded from its original name (Goofrica), Web9 had managed to garner public attention through its unique email marketing tactics.
For years, Mushipe sent out spam emails advertising his search engine platform to South Africans on a daily basis. The mails obfuscated the sender name to impersonate well-known companies including Google, Facebook, SARS, and more.
These mails offered a voucher for the recipient to buy advertising on the Web9 platform, and the unsubscribe link included in the mails did not work.
Confirmations and apologies
After tracking Mushipe down, MyBroadband asked him about the emails and he confirmed that the had resorted to spam emails for marketing his platform.
Significant consumer backlash followed our initial article on Web9’s marketing methods, and this eventually resulted in Mushipe issuing a public apology for his actions.
In his apology, Mushipe explains how he came to found Web9, and that he eventually built automated Python scripts to scrape business emails from all over the Internet.
These became his targeted list for unsolicited emails. After he began sending out the spam mails, he started to see people sign up to his service.
Angry complaints began to roll in, but Mushipe continued with his business plan, right up until he was contacted by MyBroadband in April 2019.
Mushipe apologised to recipients of his mails, stating that he was aware of the consequences of his actions and would implement various measures to reduce the negative impact of Web9 spam emails.
These included removing those who tried to unsubscribe previously, fixing the unsubscribe option, and – perhaps most importantly – no longer impersonating other companies in the “From” field of Web9 emails.
Oversight and accountability
MyBroadband did not speak to Mushipe again until we received a mail earlier this week with the subject line, “Google is not your friend”.
The “From” field of this mail said that it was from “Jobs.co.za”, but the actual source of the mail was Web9, and it included the same advertising voucher as before.
We reached out to Mushipe to determine whether he was truly resolved to follow through on the terms of his apology, and he responded immediately by stating that the email was an oversight in server configuration.
“What most likely happened is one of the marketing servers did not get updated to stop the randomization of from names,” Mushipe said. “I have asked for a manual check of all servers to make sure this does not happen again.”
“For now, all marketing servers have been stopped while we investigate this issue,” he said.
Mushipe asserted that he fully intends to comply with the terms of his public apology, and even told MyBroadband that he was taking steps towards bringing his marketing tactics in line with local regulations.
“You’ll be happy to know that Web9 is in the process of joining the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa to make reporting of problems easier and to ensure that we comply with all regulations,” he said.
Web9’s membership of the DMASA would mean reduced opportunities for questionable email marketing tactics and a subsequent drop in sign-ups, but as Mr Mushipe said in his apology last month: “It’s time for Web9 to grow up.”