Google Places: Now Permanently Closed with 2 clicks – Its Getting Worse NOT Better

Last Monday, the NY Times ran an article about how easy it was to mark businesses as either “reported to be closed” or “permanently closed” in Google Places. There had also been reports at the time that Google was actually sending out an email to claimed businesses that were marked as “permanently closed” although not to businesses”reported as closed”. The article in the Times occurred after months of reports of businesses being closed by competitors. Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry and Google in Mt. View both suffered the same fate (although for different reasons 😉 ).

Shortly after the article appeared in the Times, Google apologized and noted that a fix was imiminent saying “These improvements will be implemented in the coming days”.

I was curious what “coming days” meant. This time, rather than experimenting on Google’s Places Listing, I experimented on my own listing at our main office in Bradford Pa. Yesterday at about noon and five, my listing was reported as closed. The first click was from my desktop in Olean and the second was from the DC area. Neither click was local to Bradford as my IP shows as Buffalo which is 70 miles away. (Update 11:30 I have just learned that my DC connection was asleep at the wheel and clicked the wrong business.) It turns out that this business was “permanently closed” with ONE CLICK.

Within 12 hours of the second report that the office was marked as “permanently closed”.  

It was not just marked as “reported to be closed” but “permanently closed” and no email notification was sent to the claiming business owner (me).

Things seem to have gotten worse NOT better. The listing did not enter an intermediate state of “reported as closed” and the business received no notification email.This is a business that has been claimed and active on Google Places long before it was known as Google Places. It is a business that has been at the same address since our founding in 2001.

Because I had been receiving so many media inquiries about the problem, I contacted Google last weekend to see if the problem had been fixed yet. I was hoping to be able to tell the media that Google had responded in the promised timeframe.

Here is Google’s response (bold mine):

I heard from Ethan that you’d inquired about the changes being made to our system to prevent malicious or incorrect labeling. We’re still working on the labeling improvements regarding this issue, and are constantly working on ways to improve our system on an ongoing basis.

Thanks for following up, and have a great weekend,
Deanna

Rant coming….

I thought “coming days” meant coming days. I understand that PR folks play with words but when a Senior Product Manager, signs a blog post saying “coming days”, I assumed he meant less than a week. It has now been more than a week. In fact it has been almost 9 days. Obviously the problem still exists and is at least as bad and perhaps worse. And now all that Google is promising is a fix no more substantial than “labeling improvements”.

Silly me. 

Is three and a half weeks from when Google learned about the problem adequate to fix a problem of this magnitude?

What does “coming days” mean? Not coming weeks, not the future, not next month but “coming days”. Was it an intentionally vague phrase that was meant to imply one thing but actually mean another? Is that acceptable?

For that matter did Google really find out about this problem just “two weeks ago, [when] news in the blogosphere made us aware that abuse… was occurring”? Was their fist inkling when I reported on it? Really?

And the final question. What does it mean when Google says We’re still working on the labeling improvements regarding this issue? Labeling issues? Hello?

I come from a world where people say what they mean and mean what they say. Maybe I am just naive but I am having a hard time reconciling these events with reality. Is Google clueless? Or are they just no different than any other corporation before or after and they will just say what is expedient when in the spotlight?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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56 thoughts on “Google Places: Now Permanently Closed with 2 clicks – Its Getting Worse NOT Better”

  1. I guess anything less than 31 days could be “coming days”, else it is “coming months”. 🙂

    Perhaps they should display the details of the reporter so that there is a deterrent to false reports.

    1. @Ash
      Certainly transparency could be one solution. Although there are so many more. At this point it could be “coming days” might just be coming years.

  2. Mike, at some point surely someone is going to make a claim against A) the fraudulent closer or B) Google.

    When Places is so valuable to the business owner and Google this has just got to be sorted out FAST.

    And you are right to think days means 2-3 days rather than 31 days.

    I can see someone sitting in Russia , temporarily closing down businesses and then demanding a ransom to get their Places listing back online for $47 unless this is all sorted out.

    1. @Boyd
      In the U.S., Google is categorically protected by federal law from abuses stemming from misuse of their platform. Section 230 of the ironically named Communications Decency Act “provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by others”.

      Actually your business idea is a good but I would suggest one variation (stolen from the locksmiths during their heyday). Take out an an Adwords campaign promising to do it for $19 or $29.95 and then when the client has divulged their user name and password and handed over a cc number, a charge appears for $490 on their credit card.

  3. What I hope is that if it takes so long for them to fix the issue, it means they are also looking into penalizing the account through which these malicious reports and changes have been done.

  4. I haven’t come across this problem yet, but I must agree that it needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later, before it becomes a widespread major problem. Can’t believe Google are reacting so slowly, maybe its not such an easy fix.

  5. Google should be commended for a consistency – meaning that I have had a “clustering” issue for now more than four months and where two separate businesses located at the same street address are completely conflated including the business name with the wrong phone number and site link.

    The Google “specialty” team has communicated to me directly by email regarding this specific issue and with specific time frames. Here are two examples.

    Google email (exact text) – Jim, “I have consulted with the specialty team in regard to your listings merging. After investigating your account and the listings that are being merged, they have resolved the issue and the merging will be undone once the system goes through an updating process. These processes happen every six weeks or so. Please have some patience and give the system several weeks for the update and your listings will automatically be resolved.”

    That was July 8th, two months after my first contact with this issue. Now, for the most recent email from Google – Jim, “Thank you for your continued patience. I have some good news for you. After investigation into you places listings, they have split the listings. So any merging will not occur. The listings at this moment will still appear merged. The change will be live in the next 2-3 weeks. If you have any questions feel free to respond back to me and I’ll be happy to help. That email was sent August 24th.

    OK, so here is a question with only two choices. Guess which is the correct answer. 1) My client listings have been separated and all is well. 2) The issue remains unchanged and business for either business is NOT AS USUAL. Yes Mike, Google should be commended for the consistency of their communications together with their lack of respective actions taken.

  6. @Jim

    I am ever an optimist and one that sees the glass as half full…. you at least actually had email communication that was on topic and responsive. How exactly did you manage that ?

  7. I msut admit – there are times when I seriously struggle to understand “Google”.

    This is one of those times.
    The sensible thing to do is to remove that tool/function.
    Pull it.
    You could simply rem out that part of the code in the page (not too difficult) (or disable the function and popup a message saying “currently unavailable).

    Surely that would be better for everyone, no?

    Further – why are they not following a logical pattern?
    1) You need 2 reports to change the status non-publicly to “possibly closed?”
    2) Upon (1) happening, email the owner
    3) You need another 4 reports to change the status publicly to “appears to be closed”.
    4) Similar to (2), another missive is given.
    5) Upon receipt of confirmation from the owner,
    or upon another 2+ reports – then flag the business as “Closed”.
    Leave the profiel there for at least 2 weeks, and again, email the owner.

    Obviously all reports should be checked for location/IP/account etc.

    They could play with the figures … 3 or 4 unverified reports,
    1 or 2 reports if the person is signed in with their G account.

    Logical.
    Sensible.
    Not to hard to implement.
    Still permits the functionality.
    Still benefits end users.
    Prevents easy abuse.
    Permits owners a chance to respond/correct.

    Still – my sitting here expecting Google to do something “sensible” is far fetched.
    Experience has taught me that G seldom do the obviously logical, and prefer more convoluted methods – that take ages.

    .

    [Side note: The anti-bot checkbox … doesn’t appear to be accessible?]

  8. @mike – actually, the tact I take came to me when I was in conversation with a Google Adwords rep and about something he disclosed – I am kind of hesitant to share it only for the reason (selfish that it may be) that they may shut that entry pathway down for everyone if they begin to receive a higher volume of people using the same tact. Additionally, I’ve found it doesn’t work with every rep and may require a couple of direct calls through Adwords support before the issue gets elevated. I might share with you by direct contact if you’re so inclined. Thanks

  9. @Autocrat
    You are right logical solutions are not unavailable. With more PHDs per square meter than MIT they should be able to work this out, if they want to.

    @Jim
    mike At blumenthals dot com

  10. @Mike
    “…
    You are right logical solutions are not unavailable. With more PHDs per square meter than MIT they should be able to work this out, if they want to.
    …”

    LOL
    That sir, is a valid point -a nd one that I occassionally discuss with a work friend.
    It seems that there is a similar phenomina to “mob mentality” when you get a collection of very smart people together.
    In such cases, the “common sense” aspect seems to suffer to a staggering degree.
    :sigh:

    So I don’t think it is G not wanting/willing to resolve it,
    I think they simply haven’t realised that would be a viable option.
    (Cannot see the floor due to looking at the sky).

  11. ….sigh…this is a mess. Local is a mess…and for us Canucks Mike, your comment of “…a charge appears for $490 on their credit card…” should be charged back to G themselves…

    good gosh….the Local mess makes me want to go out and buy a lottery ticket…win…and then lie on the beach in St Barts….

    🙁

    Jim

  12. Perhaps we’re in one of those inevitable periods of frustration that comes when development resources all shift to the “new product” (the rumored G+ Business Pages), and essentially leave the current product to simmer slowly, devoid of management attention and political capital.

    Any insight into this?

    1. @Perry
      Perhaps… but Google Local/Maps/Places has been in a period where development resources shift towards “new product” from day one. There are bugs that have been extant for a number of years so even when there is or isn’t new product imminent we have not seen fixes.

      Also, they are the ones that said “coming days”, not I. If they were too busy to fix serious bugs in that timeframe, they could have picked another. Unless of course they are making a habit of Nixonesque communications style.

      There are certainly rumors of something imminent. Have been unable to get confirmation though. I am not sure if I will be included in the early review/embargo process at this point.:)

  13. @Autocrat
    I think that they do in fact see and know of a solution. It has been my experience that it is not caused by a lack of common sense perhaps other than in the priorities that they set.

    @Jim

    Well the $490 would be more likely to strike it rich than the lotto. 🙂

  14. My heart hurts to hear this.

    Even though it was not successful the 1st time, I’m going to continue to go the media route on big problems like this because I think public and shareholder pressure over time may help them re-focus efforts on making Places in general work better.

    After Mike and I were quoted in that NYtimes article, another really big media outlet contacted me about what I think could be an even bigger story that could have more positive impact for us in the trenches that are trying to force change. I’m emailing that reporter back right now to alert him to this post.

    Plus I’m emailing the NYTimes reporter to let him know as well that Google did not follow through on what they reported to him they would do.

    Thanks Mike for being vigilant and for shutting down your own Place page to test. That’s commitment!

  15. Oh and plus when the NYTimes 1st came to me it was about a totally different story they have not yet published. (I gave them the ‘closed’ story and Mike’s contact info and they switched gears and published this story instead.) I can see a way this update of Mikes could fit into that other story, so I’ll suggest that as well.

    In fact Mike, here’s an idea. Instead of closing Google (which was a really fun test) let’s close the someone really big that’s in a position to make a really big stink about it! I know the perfect target. 🙂

  16. @Linda

    I have just updated the article. It turns out that this particular closing only required ONE click.

    That was on my list for week two. 🙂

  17. Mike, thank goodness for your taking the initiative to test this issue. It is hard to accept that something as important to a business as their Places page can so easily be ‘closed’… by anyone with an internet connection. No checks, my goodness!

    I’m still waiting on several dup listings to be cleared up as well as one client’s negative review, that clearly violates Googles policies, to be dealth with. It’s frustrating to have take wait so long for issyes to be resolved.

  18. At what point does the SMB community band together to take a stand? What we should do is leverage Google’s own properties to voice our concerns… With G’s big push for G+, we as a SMB community can be heard.

  19. Hello everyone. I’ve been doing Local search for years and share every bit of frustration that you have all written within Mike’s blog. Great blog by the way.
    Mike, I think that’s awesome that you reported your own listing. What I think is even better is that Google is now “reported as to not exist”. Wouldn’t that be crazy.
    I got fed up, as you all probably have from time to time, with local search and the people doing black hat things and taking advantage of Google’s REVERSE support. I call it reverse support because I feel they are advocating black hat techniques, since in essence, isn’t it easier to just eliminate your competition in the 7 box instead of practicing white hat techniques?
    Any ways, It would mean a lot to me if you guys would read my article about my ongoings with local search in my specific niche.

    I wrote the article for a Local Van Nuys, CA newspaper, it’s called, “Google Places, Where Crooked Businesses Take Over” . I would post the URL but I didn’t want to look like I was spamming or anything. You can also search in Google News for google places and it should come up. the paper is Van Nuys News Press.

    Thanks and Mike, I’m at your site every day and look forward to more reads.

  20. that’s very odd, just go to vannuysnewspress.com and its the first featured article. I would have posted that entire article here as a comment but I posted it before I was here.

  21. thanks Mike. What did you think? I’m sure you have similar stories. We should all get together and write a book. I’m pretty sure I still have enough emails and evidence to back up my stories. 🙂

    I have another story about this company that was forwarding mail…….and without going into it, I’m sure you understand why they were forwarding mail. 😉

    1. @Daryl
      It was a good read. You, my friend, are in a rough and tumble business so I am sure that you have seen everything that Places has to offer.

  22. “In fact Mike, here’s an idea. Instead of closing Google (which was a really fun test) let’s close the someone really big that’s in a position to make a really big stink about it! I know the perfect target.”

    I am half-jesting, Mike & Linda, but I think closing the offices of Microsoft and every single source of external reviews (Yelp, Zagat/Google, Dine, TripAdvisor, etc.) might do the trick.

  23. I’m the guy who was “asleep at the wheel” and who reported that the Olean location was closed not the Pennsylvania location.

    Oh well. Just for further edification, Mike and I managed to get a real business closed with only 2 notifications. The business had in fact closed…and we reported these notifications from IP addresses far from the actual business.

    Also I managed to get another business closed last week. It too had actually closed. I sent in 3 different notifications from the same IP….no response. the funny thing was that in the comments each day I included a link from a reliable source identifying that the business had closed; a local news article, the facebook page for the business and finally the website. On the final day, I got another local friend to report it closed and it closed instantly.

    It appeared that it only took two different IP’s to effect a change in status.

    But with the Bradford situation….who knows. That was apparently just Mike.

    I also reported this into the google spam team. never got a response…but with google that is par for the course.

    Here is the issue in my eyes:

    Sometime this summer Google changed the “filter” or whatever it uses to respond via algorithm to clicking on the “report a problem” link on the bottom of a places page.

    In the past there was virtually never a response. You could honestly report a business closed for years and there wouldn’t be a response.

    Then google changed things this summer. There didn’t seem to be a filter at all. I know I reported a problem on a record twice in early August.

    The record changed. I was dumbfounded. Shortly after that the velocity of reports about businesses being spammed and ‘closed” hit huge numbers in the Google Places forum and Mike reported it.

    It was epic and problematic. An outcry occurred and Google subsequently said they would send emails/or contact businesses prior to reporting them closed. That response seemed reasonable.

    It seemed HUMAN and RESPONSIBLE google evidently isn’t doing that.

    After effecting a change on the first experiment I contacted the spam team. I reviewed my actions and gave my “take” on it; especially in lieu of the mass attack by competitive spammers in “closing places”.

    First of all, opening the door to the spammers had an obvious and negative impact. It became rash.

    Maybe Google’s engineers can’t get this through their skulls. When a competitor is able to change your business status to closed or Is this closed or permanently closed that is a serious death knell for a business.

    Its deadly. and its false. The business is only closed in the “virtual world of google algo’s” But it is effective. It kills some businesses.

    Google doesn’t respond to people. Yet google has this immeasurable powerful impact.

    Its scary. “Algo google” strictly an invention of computer models devoid of human touch can have a more dire impact on real lives than real actual competition.

    I look at a series of different types of businesses. Again and again I see search being the dominant form of contact for many of them and when I compare google to bing and yahoo, as with so many other webmasters I see google controlling 80% or more of search traffic. Not 60% like so many of the market reports say.

    Like other webmasters I see this overwhelming monopolistic control of the potential to get the message out to consumers in the control of a single entity that simply doesn’t communicate to human beings.

    Its scary.

    I put my $0.02 in. I suggested that the current status that seems to enable the status of a business to be changed is far too easy and spammable. I never heard back.

    Hopefully more major media pick this up and once again shine the light on Google’s immense power and its stubborn unwillingness to act like human beings.

    BIG BROTHER–we are there and its name is Google.

    1. @earl

      I think that google trust in the business listing plays a role in whether one, two or three clicks are necessary to move the listing into either “reported as closed” or “permanently closed”. After closing several businesses successfully that “deserved” to be closed and had strong signals that they should be… it seems that this is not necessarily a linear process. IE some businesses go directly to permanently closed, some goto reported as closed enroute… it may be as much based on the business as the poster reporting the closure.

  24. I have nothing against the NY Times but I just marked their business as closed. In the comment box – “This business shut down a long time ago.” There is NO WAY this would have an impact on their business, right? Come on! No way that their listing would actually say “closed” because some dude in Colorado was just foolin. No way.

    @EarlPearl – I agree with you that Google’s % is 80+

    @Mike – I think you may be the voice that the SMB community coalesces around. This is good stuff.

    1. @Jeffrey
      I may offer a point of view that SMBs can relate to and that may provide a common point of interest but when it is necessary to achieve a common goal, it will be like rats on a sinking ship,

  25. I read Darryl’s article via Andrews blog. Real interesting.

    Mike: per our earlier discussions you may have hit the nail on the head about differing levels of trust implying different volumes of contacts to effect changes.

    Darryl’s article got me to reflect back on google’s reliance on algo’s to effect changes. That clearly can and does work with regard to google.com and in my view over the long haul Google has done a good job of improving its results, fighting spam, and enhancing its results.

    In maps.google.com or google places it isn’t currently working though. When it doesn’t work it wreaks havoc on real brick and mortar businesses and real customers. Too often maps.google.com is the vehicle through which crooks manage to scam consumers.

    Darryl’s case is interesting. His record is getting whipsawed by immoral competitors, he is paying google to run adwords and google is simply not connecting the two and not giving his google places record appropriate service. In essence they are taking his money….and ripping him off at the same time.

    Cr@ppy customer service in my book. Google, until you can get your algo stuff in order within places put some bodies into customer service so folks like Darryl get their money’s worth

  26. I’m an ignorant (well a little less so, thanks to you guys) newbie, and I’ve known about this problem for more than 2 weeks

  27. It does seem to be the rare person that actually gets a direct communication from Google (re comments 9 & 11).

    @Jim Ryan’s comment makes me wonder, how rare is the direct communication from Google that is actually effective? I have heard of some; but I’ve heard of a lot like @Jim Ryan’s case too.

  28. Mike, you could be the voice the SMB community coalesces around. Invite Nyle Seabright, she/he seems intelligent, passionate, articulate, and educated and would be a great partner in such a campaign.

    There are so many things going on with Local Search that just don’t make sense (try searching on Aquariums Wilmington DE sometime). We have to do something.

  29. @Jim and others that have mentioned the clustering (I call them merged) of a Google Places listing.
    I can completely commiserate with all of you. I currently manage quite a few listings and I’m fighting weekly with listings that were fine one day, merged the next day, gone the next, etc….and interesting cycle.

    Here’s how I’ve had success fixing that issue. I’m not sure if its a secret or if I should even reveal my tactics, but I feel if we all use it, maybe they’ll create some sort of customer service for Places. Since I have an AdWords account, in the old days I would just call my AW’s rep and provide my complaints through them and they would alert the “Places Tech” team and my problems would usually go away within a week (that’s 3 weeks or more Google time).

    Lately, I have added AW’s express to my Places listing (you don’t have to spend money, just put it on there with a budget that won’t get any action) which allows me to call in to the AW’s rep and get things fixed more expediently. My Van Nuys Bail Bonds listing continues to get merged and screwed up. Even last month it had gotten merged with 4 other listings. You can usually figure out which listings by clicking on the “more pictures”, then click on “from owner” below the pictures that aren’t yours. This will usually give you the URL of the website and more insight in to who’s listing you have been merged with.
    The title of my listing is usually “Van Nuys Bail Bonds” and after the merge it changed to four different business names sans mine, which also sent me in a rage. I checked the correlation to the URL’s revealed by clicking on more pictures and saw exactly how Google was scraping the content from where the picture URL’s were and placing them in my listing (merged).
    So, after 3 weeks (I know, I said expediently) and 14 emails with the AW’s rep, the listing is fixed (mostly) and now back to my one box.

    At least this technique in itself allows you some sort of channel in to fixing the issues with the Places listings, albeit sometimes slow, but never the less, a solution was made.

    It’s also interesting to note: Every time I called and spoke with the AW’s rep, I always asked permission to speak with a Google “Places Tech” and was never allowed, as the AW’s rep would always mention they would “pass” on the information. And the emails would always refer to comments like “after getting my information from the places tech team, this is what they said…..”

    Also: Every phone call I make (40 or more), I always ask if I may visit Googleplex and speak with the “Places Tech Team”, and have always been denied. One can only hope.

  30. I mentioned in my 1st post above I was interviewed for another media story about Google Places.

    The story just hit on InfoWorld and mentions the ‘closed’ issue but is more about the general lack of support.

    I mentioned this post about closing your own Place page in comments in that story Mike. Here’s my blog post about the story and more issues re GP support.

    The Big Baby that Won’t Grow Up – InfoWorld Story About Google Places Lack of Support

  31. Just Got an email from Google at September 16, 2011 5:37:44 AM MDT:

    Google Maps Problem Report – Action taken
    Thanks again for sharing your local expertise with other Google users! We have reviewed New York Times because of your report.

    If there is still anything wrong in our information about New York Times on Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=2092753244703205038), please consider updating it directly via the “edit” link, or reporting another problem.

    Thanks for your help,
    The Google Maps team

    This is the quickest review of a problem report I’ve ever seen. Under 48 hours!

  32. Why wouldn’t they use the same darn verification process they use when you start a listing to check to see if its closed? The much anticipated phone call or the 2-3 week post card? A simple pin verification to the phone number registered to the account or a card to the address?
    Is this fix to simple? Or do they really not care because these business’s are free?
    I have noticed a high uptake in pay per click ads from the mass locksmith spammers and others along with the new CEO saying that he wants to adjust the Places area to make it more profitable when you mix these problems with the free listing and his statement i think we get our answer.

  33. Google really needs to protect companies from these types of issues better. They are trying so hard to get businesses in… even offering free websites with hosting… and this type of actions is harming their rep among small business owners.

    1. @Jessica

      Mine came back by the next day. Whether that is normal or not is not clear to me. Please send me your listing link via email (mike at blumenthals.com ) and let me take a look.

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