Google Maps: Cleaning up the Index

A number of weeks ago Google announced that they had closed one LBC security hole that allowed mapjackings, last week they indicated that they had closed yet another. Yesterday I highlighted a prominent mapjacking of The Plaza Hotel that Google almost immediately remedied. Kudos to Google for all these moves. But are they enough?

Today I was mapjack cruising and found this OneBox listing for the search phrase Locksmith in Detroit, MI:

Detroit Locksmith Hijacking

Google’s strategy to only remove high profile problems leaves these many, many polluted listings in the index affecting both users and businesses alike. Is it really fixed? Perhaps I am naive but when the plumbing breaks you don’t just seal the leak you clean up the mess from the broken sewage pipe.

I am confident that Pizza Papalis isn’t too happy about standing downhill from this particular pipe.

In a related story, Steve Hatcher, a local search marketer, was in Portland last week for SEMpdx SearchFest 09 and saw this Fox News report on the Portland nightly news detailing the Locksmith scam. It was noted in the video that the Google results led to a Pizza Parlor. An interesting tidbit was that these scam locksmiths will gain entry to anyone’s house on your behalf, not just yours.

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10 thoughts on “Google Maps: Cleaning up the Index”

  1. Thanks for the mention Mike 🙂

    I think these spammers like to target really small businesses like indy pizza joints and mini marts because many of those small operations are unlikely to realize their even is such a thing as Google Maps and that their business is even listed in there.

    Many of those types of hijackings could go undetected for a very long time.

  2. Well in Detroit they targeted the top pizza place and with the Plaza in NY a very prominent landmark. So I am not so sure that they are picky as to location as much as they are hijackable listings that rank well.

    Here is another search that retrieves a OneBox: Locksmith Houston TX.

    These mapkackings certainly are not hard to find. Typically they stick out like sore thumbs as a number one or two ranked lock smith with LOTS of reviews. Here are two more that showed up in a brief search, both #1’s with lots of reviews and both mapjackings:
    Locksmith Sacramento Ca
    Locksmith San Antonio Tx

    I just wish that Google would take the time to clean them up. I am tired of looking at them and for me at least, this is not the society that I want to live in…. One where the new yellow pages makes breaking and entering a piece of cake and you can’t trust a business listing.

  3. Yes, thet’re obviously going after the big prominent ones too. But those are easier to spot and Google cleans them up when get outed. Arduous hand edits.

    I suppose it should not be too hard to create a little program that can sort through the database, look for locksmith entries that overlap with restaurant and hotel reviews. That would clean up a chunk of them.

    But the thousands of little guys that got hijacked??? How do they clean that up? Small shops with no reviews to use as a cross keyword filter (locksmith + pizza, or hotel, or food, or restaurant, or motel).

    When I say thousands, it might be an order of 10 or 100 times that.

    If the database stored info like previous categories a listing used to be associated with, or stored previous changes, then it would be a lot easier to filter the crap out. But I doubt they are keeping that info in the db.

  4. Yes, it is not a trivial problem.

    But we assume that Google is able to solve non-trivial problems…there are a number of other cues and clues including url, login emails, reviewers, phone numbers that create a criss crossing web of deceit.

    One also assumes that Google knows how to slice and dice these records for patterns of activity etc.

    I have faith that Google COULD do it if they so CHOOSE. Maybe I am wrong but from where I sit, it appears that they choose not to.


  5. I noticed yesterday that Google is showing something similar to what you found for Detroit Locksmiths now for New York listings. Thinking I would see if they were moving to this generally I tried one closer to home. Not only were they showing a 10-pack for Portland I discovered that the one seemingly legit locksmith in the bunch had, had his listing hijacked. The number you find in the 10-pack for him is one of the national scam companies and doesn’t match the one on his site. I called both to check out my assumption. Then took screen shots and posted the whole thing here

    The thing that’s upsetting is that Jen from Google said in her comment on your blog that they had cleaned up the problem. I find this very discouraging.

  6. @David
    I saw your post and attempted to respond to it a bit later but was unable.

    The results in the Locksmith industry have been shaken up across the country. Results are changing in many locations several times a day. So it is apparent that Google is working on it in their way….

    When Jen said that they had fixed the problem she was specifically referring to having patched the security breach which allowed claimed records to be hijacked. Google does not ever seem to clean up the index the way that you or I would seem to think they should. They do have a method….

    Typically, they will hand jigger eggregious results on the main results page and perhaps removed one or two listings when they are are reported very publicly.

    At that point, if the results are generally unsatisfactory, the problem might be elevated and they will explore algo tweaks to provide better results.

    Going back and purging the many bad listings or rolling back hijacked listings to a previous state is not something I have ever heard of them doing.

    If the owner of those individual hijacked listings complains in groups, that particular listing will be fixed. But the many, many bad listings will remain in the index. Perhaps if they get the algo tweak just right they will disappear from view by virtue of being ranked so poorly.

    Not very satisfying but I think this is how they “fix” these kinds of problems.

  7. Google mapjacking is not just a problem for locksmiths and pizza places, the hotel industry is plagued by this with and and others hijacking hotel listings all over the planet.
    The solution to this is blindingly obvious and simple – have a google maps listing available from webmaster tools and the google map listing must go to the actual VERIFIED hotel web site not to a third party website.

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