Google Map’s spam fighting efforts- if graded?

My son just got his progress report in school and I am proud to say that he got very good grades. It wasn’t always that way, and in fact last year he spent most of the time either on restrictions or with extra chores. He has grown up a lot over the past 6 months and I have to give him credit. It seemed as if I was going to struggle with him for his whole high school career as he “lost” one homework assignment after the next or only “remembered” to finish half of the assignment. I guess there is hope for him after all. In fact more than hope. I am incredibly proud of him.

I am not so sanguine about Google’s chances in fighting mapspam. But it is that time of year so I thought I would offer up a grade.

The recent cases of florist and brand hijackings were some of the most egregious examples of spam that I had seen in a while. I wanted to review Google’s record in dealing with it.

Some 45 or so unsuspecting floral businesses and a number of other national chain locations had revenue diverted (stolen?) when their unclaimed listings were modified via community edits to redirect to an affiliate fulfillment house. One florist, in a large market that I spoke with, noted that his revenue was down 30% for the several weeks that he fell victim to the attack.

That is a large number and it had to hurt. He finally, with the help of Google, regained control of his listing, reappeared in the 10-Pack and all was good. Google, while not preventing the attack, did respond to his pleas in the group and elsewhere.

The trail of the hijackers though was quite clear. A few “community editors” did most of the dirty work of changing the florists, car rental agencies and hotels to their benefit. Google’s community edit system, while woefully insecure, does leave a large footprint. Without the right tools, it takes hours to ferret out the culprits, but their deeds are there for the world to see. With the right tools, it would have taken but a few minutes to track them down and delete their handiwork.

So in determining Google’s grade, with the help of some florists, I went back to review listings that were hijacked and determine their status. Google, for reasons only they know, has not changed many hijacked listings back to the original owners.

I would encourage you to view some of the profiles of the “editors” to see how widely their net was cast and how obvious it is that they were up to no good. Here is the list of florists whose listings were hijacked and remain so 5 weeks after they were widely reported:

Hijacked Location Community Editor Community Editor
Clara CA
lisajoneson Lorotolo
Newark amicisalon siusan90
Orlando Lorotolo
nickboster Lorotolo
Cleveland spaamici
Chicago sandersmike1 siusan90
Atlanta sandersmike1 siusan90
Brooklyn sandersmike1 siusan90
Dallas lenasdes siusan90
Houston pmwale siusan90
Portland siusan90
lenasdes siusan90

From where I sit, Google needs to do the same growing up that my son has. They need to not only make it more difficult to scam the local listing system, they need to be more thorough when responding to spam attacks. Removal of few high profile listings while leaving as many in the index is not a “grown up” strategy. The index needs to reflect reality, not the twisted mind of petty theives. Google, as they move toward adulthood, needs to recognize their responsibilities in this matter and live up them.

One, they need to do their homework, two they need to turn it in on time, three they need to stop relying on the likes of me, and others like me, to highlight the worst cases and four when they do find a case of spam, they need to go back and scrub the data not just remove the most visible of them.

My son, who is soon to be 14, has grown up. Its time for Google to grow up as well. Their grade? A big fat D. Not failing but not the star student that I had hoped they would be. Kids these days! But if my son is any indication, there may still be hope.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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16 thoughts on “Google Map’s spam fighting efforts- if graded?”

  1. I give them a C plus. It is a new idea, with sophisticated algorithm.

    If they had rules that weren’t so vague and ambiguous, there would be a lot less Map-Spamming in my honest opinion.

    But the biggest problem I see with Maps is the uneven enforcement of the Rules. So that brings me back to paragraph two.

    The Rules need to be more clear and then if so, enforced better.

  2. Mike,
    That chart is phenomenal. Look at what these folks have been doing, from one end of the map to the other! I would be very interested in reading a post detailing how you amassed this edits data.

    Sorry I haven’t been around for a few days, by the way. Been down with a virus.

    This was a great read.

  3. Hi Miriam

    A florist alerted me to the remaining listings that had not been cleaned up. If you go into the edit (new) feature deep enough in the bubble you can find an edit history where they give you the names of the “editors” and their profile url.

    Sorry you have been sick. Been having fun while you were away :). Glad to have you back.


  4. “Without the right tools, it takes hours to ferret out the culprits, but their deeds are there for the world to see. ”

    Mike – I’ve got a case and can’t decide if the listing has been hijacked, or if Maps is doing a poor job merging data from multiple sources.

    The listing in question is this one:

    The web site associated with the first result is, which is not the hotel’s official web site. Google lists this URL as “Provided by Google Users”

    There is a verified business listing for this hotel, so I can’t tell if this is a hijack or a clumsy merge of data pulled from user content.

    Any ideas?

  5. If Google lists this URL as “Provided by Google Users”, it means that someone has edited the listing via the community edit feature.

    If you dig into the bubble and then select Edit New!/Edit New!/View History link you can see who and when and from what the url was changed (as well as any other changes to phone number, business name etc) :

    Changed address to 25 Edwin H Land Blvd Cambridge, MA 02141-2236 from 25 Edwin H Land Blvd Cambridge, MA 02141
    Changed website to from
    Edited by ann @ kimpton hotels

    Sep 8, 2008
    Changed website to from
    Edited by Google

    So it appears that the changing of the URL is less than forthright. You can see that this user: Google has changed a lot of listings to his website either for traffic and commission reasons.

    In fact if you look at the bottom you can see some evidence of affiliate hijackings:

    Courtyard by Marriott: Foxborough
    35 Foxborough Blvd, Foxboro, MA 02035
    Changed website to from
    Sep 8, 2008

    Courtyard by Marriott
    387 Winter St, Waltham, MA 02451
    Changed website to from

  6. Well I presume that he thought he would be less likely to be caught if he labeled himself “officially”. In this current wild west environment, he could have called himself Jack the Ripper and I am not sure that Google would have noticed his efforts as a community editor.

    I hope you followed back on my instructions above so you can figure out where this info lies within maps?


  7. Oh…I see why they are linking the business listing over to their website. Its for the adwords revenue….abusing maps instead of using adwords so it is cost free. Google is involved on both sides of the equation….


  8. Checking other Boston hotels owned by the same company shows that this guy has been at it all over town. I see one hotel for which good-hearted users have flipped it back to the correct URL three times, only to have change it back.

    This may be one for the folks in legal to take care of. It is, after all, a form of theft.

  9. That’s interesting! Thanks for the info. I’m passing it on to a friend that has a business.
    Is there any way to delete spamming on the review section of the google map listing? We have a fellow harassing and cant get ahold of google and the police suggested getting some pepper spray. In the meantime what do we do with the malicious comments left in the review section on google maps?

  10. The reviews in a Google Maps listing come from either Google or they are scraped from a third party site like CitySearch or Yahoo Local.

    If the review is from a 3rd party site, you need to contact them and aske them to take it down. Once it has been removed it then will take Google some time (3 months?) to catch up with the change and hopefully remove from the Maps listing.

    If it is a Google review you can go into the review inside the more info bubble and “flag the review: as inappropriate. This will take you to a reporting form.

    The best bet however, from my perspective, is to get lots and lots of good reviews. Interestingly bad reviews contribute as much ranking value as good reviews so rather than waste them, make them work for you.


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