First Case of Large Scale Abuse at Google Maps?

In the past there have been tales of skullduggery (see: Beware: Competitor Hijacks Google Local Business Listing? Maybe, Maybe Not!) at Google Maps which have proven to be false. It appeared that Google Map’s verification system was robust and while there may have been algorhytmic problems, there had been no reports of abuse….until recently.

It appears that some companies are managing to spam Google Maps local listings via Bulk Upload. This abuse was first reported to Google in the Maps for Business Group on 7/19/07 and substantiated on 7/20/07. Google’s response from Maps Guide Jen:

Right now there’s no easy way to report these listings or get them removed,
especially if there’s a lot of them. If you can let me know the specific
search term that you’re looking at, I might be able to do a quick quality
check.

The abuse reported was multiple local listings by TechPros. In a brief check of other areas, their listings were found in all major and minor metropolitan areas of the US that I checked (perhaps in every zip code), using the exact same PO Box and phone number on every lisitng. In the example shown below Google Maps show 487 results for Techpros near Chicago, IL. Google is also showing 264 for Techpros near Olean, NY (by way of reference Olean barely supports 5 computer repair facilities).

techpro.jpg

rentageek.jpgA similar situation seems to exist for a company called RentAGeekInc.com, showing results of 148 for Rent a Geek near Olean, NY and 603 for Rent a Geek near Chicago, IL (click on image at right for a screen capture of results).

It is important for public confidence that Google not only take care of these listings immediately by removing them but that they implement a better system for preventing these types of entries in the future.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
First Case of Large Scale Abuse at Google Maps? by

43 thoughts on “First Case of Large Scale Abuse at Google Maps?”

  1. How does bulk upload work? Is this something anyone can do or does it involve some trickery? Seems like quite a vulnerability.

  2. I have used the bulk upload before, as well as the individual update listings through Google’s Local Business Center (LBC). The LBC has fraud prevention in their postcard verification system. The bulk upload is fairly straight forward to submit. Google has help pages for users to create an Excel spreadsheet for their local listings, and then they may submit it through their Google account. Once submitted, the user can manage each individual listing through the LBC. The problem with the bulk upload is that it does not ask for verification after the spreadsheet is uploaded.

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  4. With all of the negativity surrinding the Google Maps at times, this actually can be seen as a form of protest with the added bonus of getting free advertising. Hmmm, on second thought, it was all for the free ads. I know wonder if Tech Pros will even appear in the Google index from here on out. Interesting to see how this unfolds.

    JR
    Definitive Synergy

  5. Hi JR

    While it could be seen that way, I doubt that was the way it was intended. It appears to be a short term attempt at gain…I would be curious to know if they it has caused a significant uptick in their call ins…

    No action yet from Google…which I find curious.

    Mike

  6. I can imagine some businesses somewhat unintentionally/naively spamming the index, if they believe they have a valid excuse to appear in all areas. For instance, some companies broker contractor services throughout the US – they could say that they can provide services in all local areas. Or, a mail order company could also claim that they provide products in all local areas (they we know they should be treated as a national advertiser).

    Even more interesting, many service providers in large metro areas do have a valid reason to be listed in all the cities/zips that make up their urban area. Plumbers, for instance, might not want their home address published, while they provide service in all the component cities of the metro… What are Google’s rules about this case?

  7. Hi Chris,

    Here is what Google says in their help files:

    *****
    Can I add my business if I don’t have or don’t want to show a street address?

    At this time, we’re only accepting submissions from businesses that have a street address or a P.O. Box. Please keep in mind that the address you enter in the Google Local Business Center will be the address to which your PIN mailer is sent, and the address displayed in Google Maps results.

    We understand that not all businesses have an address or want to publish it, and we’ll keep this in mind as we work to improve Maps.
    ****

    Your point is well taken that many businesses have a legitimate and compelling reason to show up in zip codes beyond their building location. Google has not yet really addressesd that situation and until they do so in a way that covers most if not all situations, you can’t have this type of discrepancy without compromising the integrity of the Local tool.

    Certainly a bulk uploader would also be aware that he/she has not entered legitimate street addresses or PO boxes. That would argue against their naivety (although not against their desire for it to be different than it is).
    Mike

  8. Mike:

    Look like it’s been fixed now. I admittedly have not been following letters to google groups google maps for businesses…but in the past they were often slow to fix things. In some cases someone needed to reiterate complaints several times to get responses.

    In the Duke University issue they corrected the problem in a day…I think because of the seriousness of the issue and because it hit the bigger public eye.

    Well it hit the bigger public eye with this post. Maybe that had something to do with eliminating the problem.

    If so congratulations.

  9. It just so happens that now that Tech Pros are gone, Blumenthal’s two listings are visible again, eh ? ;)
    Thanks for sharing anyways, that’s definitely an interesting find!

  10. Hi SEO Montreal…

    I didn’t have to worry too much about Olean Onebox results, I have plenty of Google Local Cred and he wasn’t able to dislodge me :)

    It was Knapps Creek, NY (pop 347) one box that had me steaming.

    Mike

  11. Hey Mike,
    Thanks for replying to my post. So in your experience, a small town like that wouldn’t have a One Box? Or it bugged you that he brought one up while Blumenthal’s doesn’t? I’m asking because I don’t know what you mean by left you steaming, since the One Box with Tech Pros is obviously gone.

    On a related note, I left you a message on your voice mail about joining your blogroll. Also, I’ve posted on my blog about this story, here: http://cityseo.blogspot.com/2007/08/google-maps-reversed-spam-el-goog.html

    You ever notice that maps spelled backwards = spam?

  12. Hi Montreal-

    That was a little joke about Knapps Creek…I am not even sure there are any computers to repair in Knapps Creek and if there are, they are probably w95 boxes :).

    there was a OneBox for Knapps Creek, in fact that what was so powerful about this particular spamming technique. It brought up their result in the OneBox for every tiny little town in every out of the way zip code for the whole of the US. It was not so successful in larger cities where there was more competition or better maintained Business Listing.

    I didn’t discover the TechPros listings, they were first mentioned in the Google Maps for business blog although I think I was the first to see the RentAGeek listings. It was only coincidental that they were in the computer repair business as you can see from the post about the “we buy houses” folks.

    Yes, in another entry, Cathy pointed out that Mapspam is even a palidrome ie it spells the same backwords or forward.

  13. A similar thing happened to our business listing but I did not intend to have multiple listings. What happened was I added a new listing way back in May and I went back and ‘edited’ the listing a few times. What I didn’t know was that every time I “edited”, it created a new listing so now I have like 5 different listings showing and it’s embarrassing! I have spent hours and hours on this trying different methods of removal (as per Google Local Help Forum) and nothing works.

  14. Hello Mr Garcia-

    Yes are suffering a case of large scale abuse at the hands of Google ;). Always a problematic position.

    Did you “suspend” rather than delete the records in the Local Business Center?

    Mike

  15. It seems a lot of people got in this wagon of manhunt unncecessariesly. I clicked on the so erroneously pointed out 148 rentageek ads in New york area and the 693 ads in chicago area, if you had done just that you could plainly see that any ad that contains the word rent or geek is under the rentageek search, if anything this would hurt more than benefit this company, as if someone is actually looking for computer repair service it is going to get everything but, like car rental for rent ect. who wants to go through hundreds of ads to find the right one. It seems to me that the said rentageek company, should have been the one complaining about this advertising flaw not it’s competitors claiming this company did something illegal is low and unbecoming it tells a lot about the person pointing the finger, it tells me loud and clear this person is cunning, envious and deceitful, someone who will put the wool over your eyes really good. Get a life and let other hardworking people have the same opportunity you want to voice their business.

  16. Dear Mr Sanchez

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog. The links above no longer reference rentageek.com because the listings have obviously been removed.

    In reporting on the issue, I was pointing out that some companies were listing their businesses at addresses that were false. If that is not the case with RentAGeek let me know and I will be glad to report on that. When I investigated I found that the company had posted entries in thousands of locals as if they had local addresses. That turned out to be false. I was not attempting to prevent anyone from making a living.

    People using Local Search engines should be able to distinguish between companies that are locally based and those that offer local service. Google currently has no way to make that distinction so for now, those offering local service without a local base need to take other avenues to advertise their wares…like Google Adwords.

    Mike

  17. I think you might be inclined to think I am in any way afiliated with rentageek. I used their services, which by the way it was superb! and cheaper than other similar services available. So contrary what you might think, I really do not know much, except that is a fairly new company, which offers service through their certified technicians in different Cities and States, so that the actual headquarters are not located everywhere, (that would be impossible)so what? their technicians are local, and they act as representatives of the company. I don’t know if you know this, but most companies are not locally based (headquarters that is) they usually conduct business through their representatives, brokers, distribuitors or what ever you might want to call them. When was the last time you had your T.V. or car repaired? did you had the CEO of Sony or Mercedes Benz come to fix it? I think not! so what’s the big deal? any idiot that thinks that a National company is based locally, needs to go back to school. If a company has integrety you not need to be in the same location to get results or quality performance. I am sorry to hear that the idiots at Google removed the information on this said company, based on some idiotic and unrealistic view of a few “have nothing else to do” morons. I am all for fairness and reason and this was a very unfair and unreasonable request. On the other hand if there was some type of follow up offered for free as part of the base price for the service (kind of like when you take your car and is put through the diagnostic machine) the service cost is deducted from your main bill when you get the repairs done, well if the company you used to do the diagnostic closed doors tomorrow you might just loose your money and it will also take some effort to get to the right person since the company might be based in China, Japan, etc., but this company does not have this so again I might ask what is the problem? you get service, you pay service that’s it, no rocket science to figure this one out. And if they have technicians available in California, New York, Arizona, etc. why can’t they post their company services all over? how else is anyone to know that this company can service you just about anywhere you are at? will you call someone in Hawaii to come and fix your T.V. if you are in Pensylvannia? Stop acting like a good samaritan that is trying to protect the public, there was nothing wrong or deceitful in this company’s ads.

    M. Sanchez

  18. Mr. Sanchez-

    I have no problem with any ads that they are running. I recognize that national service organizations provide service l locally. However ads are different than a listing in the Google Maps business directory. I do have a problem with them claiming to have a local address in Google Maps when in fact they do not. Google Maps is not an advertising vehicle it is a business listing service.

    I also believe that any national service organization needs to be upfront and honest with their potential public and if they are providing service but do not have a local address then they should not need to make an address up.

    My opinion in this matter is of little import. I do believe that customers ultimately make up their own minds and Google can decide which listings are legitimite and which arn’t.

    In this case Google decided that RentAGeek’s listings were not appropriate and removed them. My comments were little more than just comments. If you think Google should change their listing policies you should probably be discussing it with them.

    Mike

  19. Here’s another interesting twist. For a very long time I was the only listing under Tucson SEO. Recently, a web designer in town tried to hire me to work for them. I turned them down, as We now offer web re-design service as part of our business mix.

    So to get back at me they created two local listings for Tucson SEO. They don’t have a clue about SEO but are using dirty tricks to attack me. It’s unfortunate that some people have to resort to such tactics.

  20. Hi Hank

    Sorry for the delay getting this posting up. I usually don’t reopen conversations on a post after 30 days unless the post has received additional exposure.

    In local using City + Service has become a standard way to name entries….it certainly sows confusion in the public as one entry looks much like the next.

    I find that in local markets it makes sense to maintain branding for the most part in your business title. As Maps in many business categories appeals to a local readership.

    Mike

  21. Since there is so much speculation as to why I did what I did with Google, I’ll tell you all. We provide computer repair and IT services in every city in the US, and we have technicians they live in just about every city in the US. Obviously, our techs do not want their home addresses posted on the internet, and so we used a generic address. We did not realize that we could not do that at the time, and once they were submitted it was too late. When we found out that we were not supposed to do it, then we stopped.

    Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to go in and delete 99,000 postings, and it seems that when you do, they never get taken off.

    One poster asked the question previously “Did it work”? Absolutely! Unfortunately, it only lasted about two weeks, and then Google started taking them down. There are still a few of them out there, but I think they got most of them off.

    Well that’s the skinny on that. We weren’t trying to be deceitfull, we were just trying to get our name out there. I guess it kind of worked. I hope those of you out there that are making us out to be the EVIL GOOGLE SPAMMERS, will give it a rest now.

  22. Hi Austin

    Thanks for your input on how this came about. I am also curious if you discovered the tactic on your own or whether you were working with an SEO company?

  23. I may be a bit late to the punch here, but “rentageekinc.com” is, on top of everything else, a mass trademark infringer.

    Back in 2001, I started up a business named “Rent-A-Geek” in Portland, Oregon. When I started my business, I did a trademark search, and found three other “Rent A Geek”s around the US. I also found that the name had been ATTEMPTED to be trademarked twice; both were struck down by the USPTO as “too generic” to trademark. So I didn’t bother. Local laws protect me in Portland, and I wasn’t worried about expanding beyond Oregon.

    Come six years later, and not only did rentageekinc.com try to claim that they were nationwide, but a second nationwide business decided to ‘name spam’ by listing in the White Pages under seven different names, some of which infringed on local company names. Neither one is my company. (Or any of the other, almost all very small locally owned “Rent A Geek”s around the country.)

    A recent turn is that someone finally got the USPTO to grant a trademark on the name, and sold their trademark to a British Columbia, Canada-based “Rent-A-Geek”. By U.S. trademark law, any company that existed before the granting of the trademark has “grandfathered in” rights to the use of the name in their local territory; but now the Canadian company (no relation to the rentageekinc.com mentioned here,) has “nationwide” rights.

  24. In response to RentAGeek-Portland

    I being the owner of the domain RentAGeekInc.com did try to trademark the name, as you pointed out. I also was in negotiations to purchase the federal trademark from the previous owner before the Canadian based Rent A Geek purchased it. Once we found out that they had purchased it, we did the proper thing to do, and changed our name to Geeks-In-Route. I also went on to once again do the proper thing, and legally trademark our new name, and have since continued our nationwide expansion.

    On the other hand, you continue to use the name, which really makes you the trademark infringer. According to our attorneys, if the owners of the Rent A Geek trademark decide to sue all of you guys that continue to use the name for trademark infringement, you will most likely loose in court, and when you do, it carries a pretty heavy penalty.

    Don’t come on here bashing us for doing the right and legal thing. Maybe you should take a look in the mirror. There an old saying that goes something like “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t through stones”.

  25. Google map sapm and business listing spam is a problem and is going to reduce the quality of the service if it gets over spammed

    is there anyway to report google map spam anonymously

  26. This kind of thing is a shame. In the Boca Raton area, there are tons of computer repair shops… it is hard enough already to get listed in the local search without this kind of spamming. Luckily so far there has not been a problem in my area and lets hope it stays that way.

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