Google Maps: New Customer Complaint Arena

Google Maps, since my Microsoft hijacking, has taken on a whole new role; consumer advocate and complaint department against major national firms. Google’s community edit feature is allowing the “community” (aka disgruntled consumers) to speak out in ways that were not anticipated when the feature was released.

I was browsing Maps when I found this record for Apple Computer today. Here is how it looked a mere week ago. I swear it was not me.

Apple customer complaint

Given Google’s commitment to a wiki style of open community Maps environment, we can expect to see more of these. Mat McGee has a great post on the contradictions involved in Google’s position.

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Google Maps: New Customer Complaint Arena by

20 thoughts on “Google Maps: New Customer Complaint Arena”

  1. Mike:

    Which do you think is preferable; a “customer disservice center” or a center dedicated to “we don’t do customer service “.



  2. More than anything I think this just demonstrates just how poor the quality of map data is these days, or at least the POI data. Map makers like Navteq and TeleAtlas have for years been much more concerned with the roadways, with POIs feeling more like an afterthough… buy list from InfoUsa… geo encode… and voila we have a POI database… and that is for the U.S.! So you can imagine how bad things must be for somewhere like India. So in a way Google’s thinking makes sense, use the power of the Internet to allow people make their own changes… they’re of course relying on people doing “no evil” ;-). Wiki’s work great when many co-authors provide a better result than say one author that may impose a unintended or intended bias, when there is a scale of users and when there is some validation process in place. There doesn’t seem to be any of the above for Google Map edits in the U.S. and map POI information is more objective than subjective. IMO the wiki policy makes a ton more sense when you’re starting from scratch, say in getting POIs established where there are non like in India or Columbia in order to get a baseline of information recorded… but not so much for the U.S. or at least they need to institute some sort of better validation system… presumably the ability to claim your listing is that validation system? If so maybe Google sees these spoof listings as a good motivator to get companies to pay attention and claim their listings, which is what they ultimately want so they can then upsell them on premium paid listings once they have the business engaged.

  3. Hi Ben

    Great post. thanks

    Google has embraced the idea in India and elsewhere in the world with their Map Maker product which looks to the wisdom of crowds for not only basic mapping data, but points of interest AND events. It seems to be working well when elf interest coincides with common interest.

    Here there is a conflict between self interest and the common interest. Driven not so much by evil as profit. The lack of any review process given the tendency toward self interest will doom the project, I fear.


  4. Hahaha! Customer disservice center. That is hilarious.

    On a more positive note, I walked a client through claiming their LBC listing this morning and it was populated with the new data within 2 minutes. I’m not sure I’ve seen that happen so quickly before.


  5. Yeah call me a pessimist, but I am not surprised that there is a inconsistency in policy here… they way I see it:

    Google is a public company with a fiduciary duty to act in shareholders best interests and the company is in the business of ‘organizing the worlds information and making it universally accessible and useful’ and of course profiting from doing so. Note that there is nothing in there about creating original information itself or ensuring the quality of the information.

    So what that means to me is that they need to do two things:
    1. provide programs or tools (like Blogger or the book digitization program) that allow for the easy creation of digital forms of information in need of organization in order to fuel future growth. The India Map Maker project accomplishes this, and allowing it to be open is the most expedient way to jump start this, even is its not 100% “validated” information

    2. find ways to make money related to people searching for information. Google make money when advertiser pay them for a presence either on or on a AdSense partner site. They do this very well, but the next leg of growth is going local, and anything that encourages local brick and mortar businesses (frequently not typical AdWords clients) to engage with Google directly say with Google Local Business Center (the place you need to go to “claim your business” in Google Maps) is a very good thing.

    While I see why Google wouldn’t want systematic mapspam (mass, commercial non relevant messaging) which would undermine the entire value of the product, I am also not sure Google feels that the occasional disgruntled consumers is doing THEM more harm then good. Sure they’re screwing up the “quality” of map content, but its gotta be a great sales/maketing tool to encourage business to use the Google local Business Center to fix the situation ($0 cost lead generation). So unless its on a mass scale, it probably does more good then harm to the business of Google.

  6. @Miriam- its being used for customer complaints, the time is not too far off when it will be used for political statements as well….vegans renaming McDonald’s to Burnt Flesh Heaven or Palestinians renaming The Israeli Embassy and Consulates…the possibilities are endless.


    I think your economic analysis is spot on although for me it raises the next bigger question of: Should society cede to role of keeper of the information to a private for profit entity? for just these reasons…they have no interest in ensuring quality and as Miriam has pointed out, the need for accuracy is paramount in Local.

    I also agree that Google may get some backhanded benefit from these scenarios but long haul that can’t be the case as Google will be (has already been?) tarred with the same brush as a punk hijacker. I am not sure that even Google’s teflon pr image can sustain that for too long.


  7. This is getting into a different area… ie ones expectation of the role of governments and ones beliefs about the ability of free enterprise and competition to sort this sort of stuff on its own.

    But for what it’s worth, my opinion is that it will be a tough pill to swallow for tax payers to foot the bill for the government to keep on top of each opening and closing and phone number change of every McDonalds and Burger King around the country. Let alone the fact that even if you could get one country to do it, doesn’t mean you can get other countries to be involved, let alone to all be consistent with one another.

    On the other hand, IMO, it seems like a perfect opportunity for a private enterprise company to step in… in fact this is something I’ve been interested in starting, a top down (rather than bottom up) business to manage the business listings of real world (brick and mortar) entities… although extending well beyond Google Maps to include management of the business presence across such places as presence in mobile phones (Nokia Maps) and personal navigation devices (Garmin and TomTom), and in-dash navigation systems etc. Since Google Maps is just one small part of the market.

    IMO it makes the most sense for the entity that benefits most from being found, to pay to ensure that they’re accurately represented and successfully located, rather than having a consumer pay (via taxes) for the privilege of being able to find the nearest McDonalds.

  8. I don’t know all the technical terminology or how any of it works. I’m computer savvy for my purposes, which are multimedia (music and graphics) and we use the web for communication and promotion of our counseling agency and my musical career. But here’s one thing I do know. Google’s system of “scraping” the internet business listings opens us all to the serious errors that happened to us. Because anyone with malintent or, as in this case a well-intended but careless non-compliance to our company standards and ethics, can list themselves as being affilliated with any business, and Google’s engines will attach it, and there is no way to fix it. If the webmaster at Qigong Institute had not been willing to act on our behalf, and had Mike not been kind enough to pinpoint the source of the trouble, we would be forced to remove ourselves entirely from the Maps listing (and we still may have to). Furthermore, we are still left with whatever residual damage has been done to our image, with no legal recourse. Google should take some form of responsibility in this, if it wishes to maintain a positive client base. At this point, there seems to be a high number of disgruntled clients. Is this truly the way to operate a business?

  9. @Ben you have already pointed out that Google has little incentive to fix the problem, we can see that getting 15 million businesses to do anything is problematic.

    We have already, as taxpayers, paid for the internet once, and continually pay to have our income and payroll taxes collected by the Government. They actually have the best list of active businesses and could provide that information in a sensible way for Google and everybody elses uses. Free market don’t really exist and when we try them (banking anyone?) they have a tendency to implode.


    Removing your listing, given how Google works, is unlikely to solve your problem. Google gathers primary business listings from companies that gather it from the phone books, the counties etc and then matches that up to information it finds on the web. As soon as they re-add a new list from one of their data suppliers your listing is likely to show back up. When it does it create a new cluster and reattach the old info from that directory.

    You are stuck I am afraid with what Google has to offer.


  10. Hey Mike, what is the best list of active businesses that you’re referring to that the government has? I am not familiar. If that’s true then it should be available to anyone in theory since its likely it was gathered with taxpayer money. From what I can tell Google seems to think that any one information source is not good enough which is why they use a three pronged approach of buying listings, and supplementing that with page scraping and the Local Business Center. While it obviously isn’t perfect from the discussion here, from what I’ve seen the thoroughness seems to blow away anything else I’ve seen from competitors.

  11. @Ben

    I am suggesting that the governments list of businesses is probably the best reflection of going concerns, they also know when someone closes their doors often more quickly than Google does.

    I am only speaking in a theoretical sense that the market doesn’t always have the best solution.

    For example the government could maintain a list, allowed measured changes to it and then like with ICANN allow users to update for a small fee. The argument that the market is the best solution is a religious based idea not a factual one. It works sometimes and not others.


  12. ah I gotcha. Yeah I always assumed that everyone InfoUsa, Axciom, etc always used the government data as a starting point anyway (Tiger/Census) and then built from there by hiring a small army of phone reps to make phone calls constantly to verify and update those listings throughout the year.

    I am by no means an expert on this subject, but I believe that the folks like Navteq then buy the data from InfoUsa and Axciom and then try to further improve them by adding observations from their own street driving teams. Navteq then sells it to Google who then tries to improve it even further by layering in page scraping and Local Business Center data.

    Sure, we could have the government do all of this themselves using taxpayer money… but frankly I am not sure the results would be any different.

    And while I am sure not very many people will agree with me here, but I see many of these listings as essentially advertising. So I am not sure I want to use my tax money to help businesses advertise themselves to me for free using my own money. Something seems wrong there.

  13. @Miriam

    psst…psst…you didn’t hear it from me but every McDonald’s listing that I looked at sat unclaimed and “prime”d for a sweet, vegan community editor to beefup their listing. See this search. How about MickeyDeads or McCholesterol?


  14. I was furious when my friends told me ,when they were looking for properties for sale our house, my husband and our car were featured in close up on a Warners house for sale site. quite clearly taken by google and published by Warners. This photograph quite clearly states the number of the house that is for sale when you pan to the top of the photograph. What can I do about this invasion of my privacy? can anyone help?

  15. who does google maps think they are?
    thought i’d have a look at my property on there site. ( i have a 6 1/2 foot brick fence for my families privacy) only to find their camera must be installed at least 12 – 14 feet so with out my permission they have taken a picture over my fence a full view of inside our house?
    If it were anyone else taking pictures like this i would ring the police and have them charged..
    what can we do?

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