Woza Online. Picture: SCREENGRAB
Woza Online. Picture: SCREENGRAB

GOOGLE is about to shut down Woza, its free website tool aimed at startups and small businesses.

The service, which launched in early 2012, was designed to give businesses "the opportunity to create their own websites … and develop an online presence — for free, and in under an hour".

Since going live, the service — launched with the support of the Department of Trade and Industry, Vodacom and Human Resources Development Council — has reportedly been used to create about 40,000 websites.

In an official statement to Memeburn, Google SA confirmed that the service will be shut down on February 28.

A Google spokesperson said all Woza online users would be given 80 days’ notice, as well as alternatives that also include free hosting.

On the Woza Online page, Google says that the service will be replaced by Google My Business.

According to Google, anyone who purchased a domain from Vodacom will be able to keep it, and the internet giant says it has worked with Vodacom to make sure they’re ready for domain owners to call in for support.

"We are really proud to have helped so many people take that first step," the internet giant said in a statement on the page.

"Closing offerings always involves tough choices," it said in an e-mailed statement, "but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users, and we want to ensure that businesses in South Africa get the best of the web, which is why we’re introducing new options.

"To continue our commitment to giving you the easiest and most effective means of having an online presence, the most flexible tools, and support whenever you need it," it adds on the Woza Online page, "we are evolving our suite of offerings for small business owners with the launch of Google My Business in South Africa".

The demise of Woza does however follow the shutting down of similar services in Kenya and Nigeria. It’s also worth noting that Google My Business is not a like for like replacement and is more of a listing-type service.

Scam reports

According to Fin24, there have been reports that Woza has recently fallen victim to scam artists.

A 2013 MyBroadband article asserted that "fraudsters are now abusing the free platform to impersonate legitimate retailers, scam unsuspecting consumers, and harvest credit card details".

In the same year, Bid or Buy — a major South African ecommerce player — warned its users against sites using Woza Online domains.

"We have received a number of reports from sellers that store-pages on wozaonline.co.za impersonate sellers on Bidorbuy," said the e-commerce service.

"As an example, the following two Woza Online stores link to Bidorbuy sellers (http://electronics4less.wozaonline.co.za/ and http://camerahouse.wozaonline.co.za/home) and try to convince people to purchase goods via Woza Online.

"The Woza Online stores link to Bidorbuy sellers to promote that the store is credible and safe (note that the operator of the Woza Online store IS NOT the Bidorbuy user linked to)," said Bidorbuy.

Tricky tax questions

Woza’s shuttering could also open up old wounds regarding the amount of tax Google pays in SA.

In 2013, we asked whether Google SA was paying its fair share in tax, especially given that operationally it is a sales arm of Google UK.

Read more: The ticking tax-bomb: is Google good for your country?

In late 2012, questions began to arise about how Google pays tax in that country after it emerged that it had paid just £6m on £2.5bn worth of sales in the country. The scandal did not disappear quickly, something underlined by the fact that in 2014 media and internet giant Naspers accused it of not paying its fair share.

In mitigation of the fact that situation may well have been worse in developing economies, we pointed to Google’s investments in SA. Among them were Woza, Umbono, its efforts to help provide broadband to rural schools and the fact that it also indirectly provides jobs for the agencies and companies that place ads on its various services.

Read more: Naspers company attacks Google over international tax practices

Woza is now gone and Umbono was quietly integrated into the 88MPH accelerator programme.

That is not to say of course that Google does not remain an active investor in SA — in 2013 it invested $12m in Africa’s largest solar power project — but without services that demonstrate visible investment, it seems likely that people will once again start to ask questions.

© Memeburn.com