Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me)

Last week I spoke with Marc from podestabaldocchi.com, one of the florists in San Francisco that was hijacked in mid September in Google Maps. Two things struck me in the conversation.

The first was that he estimated that his business was off 30% for the weeks of the hijacking. That is a significant number that demonstrates the power that Google has conferred on local search. Research indicates that users are going to the internet for the their local buying information and Google is leading that charge. Businesses have benefited from Google’s prominent placement of local results on the main results page.

The second comment that struck me, was that he felt he only had himself to blame for not claiming the record. He noted that if he had claimed it, none of this would have happened. Of course, he added, he didn’t even know that he had a record in Google Maps but he was learning fast as to how to control it. That hit an odd note for me.


Every small business thinks that if they could only operate like the IBMs, Microsofts or Apples of the world, they would have their act together on these new marketing angles. If like, IBM et al, Podesta Baldocchi were on top of these details they could have prevented this hijacking.

I wondered if that was in fact the case so I decided to see if some of the major Fortune 500 companies had in fact claimed their records and avoided the possibility of hijackings. Microsoft came to mind first. I grabbed one of their listings in Redmond and was able to change the location, url and their business name. Microsoft even managed to gather a spammy review in its short life as an escort service :). Out of a sense of fair play, I changed it back although Google has not yet done so. I wasn’t sure that that Microsoft or Google would appreciate my sense of humor.

So I randomly checked elsewhere in the technology arena to see who else might be susceptible…..

 

I only checked Apple Corporate & IBM Corporate in Armonk and they were both vulnerable. So far I was batting 1000 and not one major company that I identified had claimed their record.

Perhaps the consumer industries were more alert to the need to claim their record? Well,Coca Cola’s corporate HQs in Atlanta and GM’s HQ in Detroit were ripe for the picking as well…

The many corporations open to hijacking

 

All this talk of pickings and hijackings made me think of the banking crisis. Secretary Paulson’s firm, Morgan Stanley is vulnerable as are the corporate headquarters forWachovia and Lehman Bros. It adds some nuance to the meaning of the word hijacking.

The final irony in this investigation? Many of Google’s local listing had been claimed and locked down, but not all had. Here is a Google local listing you are free to modify if you are feeling a wee bit devilish this Halloween:

Google record open to hijacking in Maps

Should any business big or small need to worry about their business listing being hijacked when they didn’t even know that existed or that it could be hijacked? And should he suffer a 30% drop in business as a result? Marc needn’t have placed the blame on himself. “Blaming the victim”, while it has a long history in our society, really doesn’t solve this particular problem.

It appears that most businesses in the US, big and small, are “guilty” of the same sin of not having claimed their record in Google Maps. He is in good company.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Microsoft's listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me) by

44 thoughts on “Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me)”

  1. RIGHT!!

    That was my original complaint, that Farzamlaw had claimed my Google Maps listings. Everyone said it was impossible. Finally I am vindicated.

  2. I didn’t “claim it”, I edited it. Big difference. If claimed in the LBC it can only be edited by you. If not it can be edited via community edit. This is a weakness in the community edit feature not the claiming procedure. What you are saying is impossible (or at the least incredibly difficult and has yet to be demonstrated in any concrete way).

    Mike

  3. So if Pepsi edits Coke’s headquarters….do you think they’ll get the secret recipe? :D. Lots of opportunities for foul play here.

  4. @Panzermike

    No, its not. Anybody can still go in and change my Microsoft listing or vote to have the listing removed. They can also go in and see my edits. Thats not basically claiming anything.

    Mike

  5. Ok. But then cant you edit the listing to make it contain all your business info and de facto claim it as your own, at least till someone else “edits” the listing?

  6. hehe..

    Mike, i think you may have just woke the sleeping ‘G’iant..

    Good investigation and nice white hating there..

    JB

  7. @JB

    I am sure that they have been working on the problem (that shouldn’t have existed in the first place)…. it will be interesting to see how long a solution takes.

    I always enjoy a little “spambusting”, particularly when it involves some good old fashioned pranksterism.

    Mike

  8. There is a validation step which goes to the business’ listed address. Why would that not stop ‘hijack’ of this kind?

    —————————-Excerpt from edit screen —————————-
    *Validating your listing
    We’ll send a letter containing a PIN and activation instructions to the business address associated with your listing. After you validate your listing, you may edit your Google Maps listing at any time.

  9. @RM

    You most definitely can prevent a hijacking of your listing by claiming and validating it. In the meantime there are 12 million or so unclaimed listings in Google Maps and those owners are not aware that they need to claim them or risk being hijacked.

    Since many of the hijakcings that we have seen are motivated by greed, it is unlikely to abate until Google fixes the community edit feature to make it less open to abuse.

    Mike

  10. This is why ALL my clients get told how to “claim” their listing should they not have yet done so.

    Nice work, by the way, on getting the word out Mike!

  11. (cross-posted to Danny Sullivan at http://searchengineland.com/google-local-business-hijacking-microsoft-acquires-yahoo-becomes-escort-service-15313.php)

    Hi Mike,

    We appreciate your continued efforts to help us identify spam on Google Maps. The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community. That said, we also work very hard internally to identify behavior that doesn’t benefit the community and to take the appropriate actions. We look forward to more and more users getting involved to help us keep Google Maps fresh and accurate.

    As you know, mapspam is a difficult problem to tackle – in many ways, more difficult than webspam. Some of these scams go far beyond maps [see this ABC News Story on Locksmith scams]. We take mapspam very seriously and we are working on it, in consultation with our webspam team. While some of the changes we’ve made so far have been less visible, we’re confident that we’re on the right path to effectively reducing mapspam. We think you’ve already recognized that there isn’t an overnight fix.

    Please keep the feedback coming, including the direct reports of spam on Maps.

    The Google Team

  12. @Stever

    Well its one way to get the word out. I think I would prefer it if Google promoted it on their own. :)

    Mike

  13. A significant proportion of small businesses that come to me for a website or search marketing don’t know much about Google Maps and some have not yet claimed their listing. Simply because they don’t know about it.

    My actions with clients that come to me are not much of a “getting the word out” but there are many local marketing consultants, like myself, that follow your work Mike and it is a great help for us with guiding our clients through the maze of local search.

    Though it would be nice if Google could realize that its fundamentalist views on “open” and ‘wiki”, noble as they may be, just won’t cut it when greed can take advantage, rather easily, of such open systems.

    So keep pointing out the holes in Maps and maybe it can help Google get better at addressing them.

  14. I’d like to add that claiming your business listing can be surprisingly hard for a large enterprise.

    Getting a postcard with the PIN to the right person can be a challenge, especially if the company is set up as a franchise and SEO is being handled from the corporate office. Verifying by phone is little help, since the people working the main line will have no idea what to do with the call.

    IMHO the verification process is set up for mom-and-pop shops. It breaks down for larger companies. This is a serious problem.

  15. @Stever-

    Yes a community model that doesn’t have a big enough membership, inadequate reviews, incentives to cheat (who will catch me and nothing will happen in they do), does seem to be a formula for disaster, doesn’t it.

    @Tom D
    The large enterprise tools are non existent. Carter Maslan has, in the past, spoken of solutions to that problem but their sure is nothing yet. Bulk upload is only half the solution (or less). If they can still be hijacked, what good are they?

    Mike

  16. Wow, it’s incredible the power of local search. A lot of my customers have no organic rankings and just local search results and generate large amounts of visits.

  17. Interesting article. I am curious about the answer to PanzerMike’s question. Can you edit the listing of another business to reflect the details of your own business and then claim it in the LBC? They would use the current phone number/email in the listing to confirm that you’re the owner and at that point the current information would be your own. Would this be an effective way to hijack a listing? If so, then that significantly increases the necessity for every business owner to claim his listings.

  18. I have had multiple listings hijacked, and they were listings that I created and claimed. I have some listings that are “half-jacked”, my url shows up, but a competitors phone number. My favorite part is clicking on the history to see all the fun edits they have done to me.

  19. What is the latest news on this? Is there an update anywhere? Has Google done anything to rectify the problem of vulnerability for having your unclaimed location hijacked? I am sure that others would like to know.
    I am just curious at what level the scammers are using this information, it seems that it could be of use to them in giving out false addresses that look valid in searches.

  20. Google did patch this vector although a number of other, more technical ones cropped up and Google is busy patching those as well.

  21. This is amazing, I wasn’t even aware that you COULD highjack a listing on Google Maps! The Microsoft listing you did… that was hilarious.

  22. As if local businesses don’t have enough to worry about, now they have to police their own listings from Google. Personally, I think Google should shut down Places as it violates many of their policies. It’s not original content. No one provided it to them or allowed them to display it. They put ads on many places so in fact, the page is created for the sole purpose of driving ad revenue, which is the exact opposite of what Google’s front-end perception is saying. They tell others to create unique, high quality content, but for themselves it doesn’t matter if they rip off other people’s stuff, just as long as users are happy and click on ads. Places is a content farm. Places needs to be shut down so that the actual businesses can once again claim their own traffic instead of allowing Google to force feed users with their own local results.

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