Google Places Now Requesting Business Licenses?

Dave Oremland of Professional Bartending School in DC, alerted me to the fact that Google Places is now apparently going so far as to request a business license from some businesses to verify their authenticity. In this Google Places forum post the Commonwealth Sunoco of Boston asked:

I received an email from local-help@google.com. They are requesting a scanned copy of my business lisence. They sent the request to my business email and not to the email I used to create my listing.

I just want to know if this is a legitimate request and not some scam.

Google Community Manager Vanessa confirmed that it was really Google that was in fact asking for a business license:

Just to confirm: Yes, that request is from the Google Places support team.

This is the first report of Google going so far as to ask for a business license. The reasons for the action are unclear. Was there a question of a guideline violation or was it to settle a dispute as to who actually controls the listing? I have no idea.

I am of two minds about the procedure. I am a big proponent of Google cleaning up the index and this is certainly a way to do that. In the case of wildly abused industries like the Locksmith business it makes complete sense. But it is perhaps too intrusive and makes certain assumption about what is a business and might throw too much wheat out with the chafe.

Dave Oremland of felt strongly that this was incredibly intrusive and inappropriate:

I found this stunning, again as a business operator and as one with current issues with g places…and essentially its black hole non responsiveness.

A police or govt. official might ask for a business license. One incredibly unhappy customer out of thousands might do it. If you were in court it might be requested. Nobody else ever asks to see it. We have over 100 years of business ownership for our several businesses.

Nobody asks for it. Google, from its engineering cocoon, disconnected from the real world, and unwilling to establish direct contact through people, is using its power to force businesses to do something nobody else would do. Not all businesses can scan information, not all businesses will have a license.

What do you think? Is this an inappropriate intrusion or is it a great way for Google to start cleaning up their index?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places Now Requesting Business Licenses? by

60 thoughts on “Google Places Now Requesting Business Licenses?”

  1. +Mike B. NO WAY. Your site and many others, but primarily yours, will cause Google to stop the unfiarness before it gets more out of hand. I am confident that Google does not willingly screw with the Local Algo to try and divert people to PPC. Absent that, they can handle this with the guidance of the Googlers. That woould be the only scenario I could see that could bring about a need for more regulations.

  2. @MikeB – point taken, too easy to point fingers. SMBs & Google need solutions not more rhetoric.

    There are historical facts to reference both sides of the gov’t efficiency debate. But like you said, not the issue here.

    Will joined forces of gov’t intervention and legit retailers curtail illegal street vendors in NYC? Ever

    To stretch it way further if only for entertaining incitement sake..Will their (hypothetical) newly formed task force cut the head off the problem or do they continue to treat the symptoms with ineffective street level shakedowns?

    Invariably when gov’t enters the arena, politics enters the fray, then its all bets off. Just an empirical observation that could be 100% inaccurate.

    No religion or politics – just semi-informed opinion on singular issue of Google requiring biz licenses for confirmation of GP listing. I just don’t think (I’m a nobody) another bureaucracy – because the manpower and awareness are probably not there at present (don’t want to promulgate another myth) – is the answer in developing a more transparent, fair, & efficient GP confirmation process.

    Inappropriate intrusion is my vote.

    Stimulating as usual.

  3. Interesting that this post should generate so many comments.

    After experiencing a record that was stable for a long time suddenly be caught in some kind of dup experience….after generating notes to google thru the google forums about what if anything might have caused it…identifying some of the potential actions that might have crawled up through the cluster to cause the dup…having asked some questions and not got answers….the Google Places System really irked me.

    I started following comments in the Places Forum, and the above issue among others interested me…and at the time piqued my anger/frustration.

    After all….Google is the big/huge monster monopoly having replaced 411/ the yellow pages and every other entity for finding information about businesses.

    I’m not the only one who says this. In a different thread inside the Places forum, a significant and active reviewer from Map maker jumped into a thread wherein an smb had experienced serial problems. The Map maker reviewer acknowledged….Google Places is the replacement for all those former sources of information about businesses.

    It is a monopoly.

    I was irked when I saw the requirement for a business license. I was irked in the context that the big monopoly was imposing an additional burden on smb’s –that in some cases they can’t generate a response.

    Some smb’s don’t have business licenses, some businesses have business licenses and never get asked for them, and some businesses don’t know where that business license is…let alone how to electronically send a copy of it to google’s technically proficient engineers.

    SMB operators on the whole aren’t whiz kids on the ever evolving world of high tech. They run b & m businesses in their neighborhoods.

    Subsequently, Linda and Vanessa mentioned that the reason for the request was rare..and it won’t occur often.

    Okay….maybe…maybe not. Frankly, none of us knows what occurs internally as google interacts with the outside world…especially with SMB’s. I believe them…but wouldn’t life feel better if they explained the reason for the request.

    If it had to do with verification…possibly they could articulate guidelines on how to verify your smb for inclusion into places.

    Now once that is done….can’t google generate a system that is less fragile, unstable….and in their words….susceptible…to a phrase they like to throw out to us…..BUGS.

    Historically, the Places ALGO is incredibly susceptible to a level of instability that is incredibly problematic. Right now as Mike, referenced in two recent blog updates there are huge volumes of smb’s with problems on their records. Its the latest “BUG”

    If google wants more forms of verification for its places record…can’t google similarly work on its end to minimize the instability with regard to Places Records??? Cripes its a bunch of fields with information. Its full of bugs because google made it complex.

    As to the issue above. I went through the various comments. Sort of a split between people who thought requesting a business license was okay versus not okay. Maybe a little more weight from the comments here that it was okay….but this isn’t a poll for testing.

    As to the latest slew of politically oriented comments….Every one of our different businesses requires business licenses. They are jurisdictional revenue generators. We often don’t get much for them.

    On top of that the business I referenced in this thread is further requlated as an educational entity within the state. The deep consumer protection on that front is that when state regulated schools fail or perform outrageous BS to consumers and get closed…..there are state funds to reimburse students who have been hoodwinked and suffered from fraudulent practices. Its a bottom line protection.

    In our experience most everything else about the regulatory process is BS and worthless…..but in our many years we have seen different types of fraudulent schools close or get closed….and the fact that students get refunds or moved to a different school….is a bottom line protection that is ultimately worth it…at least in my $0.02. :D

  4. @Dave, I think that was me: http://goo.gl/7iFGp. When I first started working on Map Maker, I noticed that that was what Google is gunning for, basically a replacement for the Yellow Pages with interactive maps. They’re even trying to get as much information as they can outside of the traditional information providers/sources (which is why they have Map Maker), and they position their search results in such a way as to favor their listings over possibly more relevant local results (Yelp, for example, often has better search results for SMBs, and their records for closures of restaurants are frequently more up-to-date than Google’s). As a result, Google Places is becoming the predominant local search provider, even though their listings are incredibly unstable. As you pointed out, it’s just a series of form fields, or basically a slightly dynamic web page, and yet they can’t seem to keep the records up or accurate. Many SMBs struggle with their listing daily, some for months on end, whereas an old yellow pages listing/ad was good to go, sometimes for years on end, without any intervention on the part of the owner. Clearly, Google’s databases are a mess, and it doesn’t help that the Place page seem to draw from invisible sources that can’t be accessed from the Dashboard, Place page, or Map Maker, so what you see on one side is not necessarily what you get on the Place page. It also doesn’t help that the Google algo’s responsible for the constant changes are causing all kinds of unseen and damaging effects. Just as Places has had to deal with merged listings, so, too, on the MM side, we’re had to deal with a dupe bot that often marked one wrong business as a dupe of another, and now the damage can’t be undone without recreating the feature from scratch. If Google is sincere about displacing the Yellow Pages of old, it simply has to solve these issues ASAP rather than letting the bugs persist for years on end, and it has to make sure that Place pages are stable and the results accurately reflect a consensus between Google’s policies and search results and the business owner’s desire to advertise themselves to the world. As of now, this tug of war has created a really difficult atmosphere for everyone to work in, and since Google really doesn’t treat the Place SMB as customers so much as another opportunity for Google to draw in Adwords revenues, I can understand the growing frustration, resentment, and hostility that SMB has toward Google Places, not only because it’s difficult to work with, but also because you don’t know day-to-day whether your business will be up tomorrow. (And there’s no one to call to fix it!)

    Anyway, the kind of attitude Dave Oremland has is somewhat baffling. Business licenses are a matter of public record, and in many states, the records are already digitized and easily searchable, so Google doesn’t even have to ask, they just have to look. As a prudent means of reducing the spam on Google Maps, checking business licenses is the simplest step Google can take, especially for spammy categories like locksmiths, which in most states require some form of licensing (most spammers do not bother with licensing). I wouldn’t even think of it as a definitive measure, so much as a signal for a verification algorithm that would include checking other records, such as professional licenses, street view, property records, phone databases, website whois, etc. Simply calling a business up and asking if they’re spammy doesn’t work! (Especially when they forward to a remote call center.). Although I don’t think it’s necessary to do this kind of detective work for most businesses, it is necessary for any kind of spammy businesses as a way of leveling the playing field for everyone, and for Google Places to be a somewhat neutral ground for legitimate businesses to compete on their own merits. It is also a way for Google to fact check spam/abuse reports, and I’m sure most businesses that have some sort of legitimate presence would eagerly hand over their (public) business licensing and record information to maintain their presence on Maps, rather than see it disappear.

  5. It’s not a horrible idea. Where I am from certain industries must display their business license in an open area of the business so that it can be viewed by the public at all times. They are taken kinda serious here. There are a lot of instances where a business license number is requested by various agency’s, so I don’t see this as being totally out of line. Although I think the business number would be sufficent and not the actual license itself.

    Now I realize there are areas of the country that are not required to have or even issue business licenses, I’m not sure what you do here. Does the business have a federal id/tax number? You may not have to pay local tax, but I’m sure they pay federal. Are they forced to aquire a D&B number (I hope not, I hate them)? I do see this as problematic for this segment.

    The main issue remains the same, there is NO ONE that can be contacted at GOOGLE for help with special cases. One of the commenters got it right, it’s a “Black Hole”.

  6. Boy, what would I do if this happened? My business is not located in an incorporated town, so the only way I can get a business license is from the County – but I’ve tried. Our County does not provide business licenses – at all. What would I do in this situation?

  7. @Dan Austin: Hey–I’m both Dave’s you referenced. BTW: This was a great interview by Nyagoslav from a few months ago. Very insightful: http://bit.ly/JUjTBh Should get more publicity–more readership.

    What can I say? I was aggravated to see the big monopoly with the black hole of non communication just out of the blue say….let me see your license. We are Google. We control everything.

    At least that was my take.

  8. Nope, not cool. The whole point of Google doing this is to make sure that their customers are finding what they are looking for in their search. Not to regulate businesses. This turns them into a quasi-government agency, when they need to mind their own business.

  9. @Ailu: I think there should be alternatives, and ideally, Google would be smart enough not to ask you anything at all, and would just do the research on their own, and if there were any serious doubts they would contact you and ask for other information to confirm your business identity, similar to how we deal with other ID confirmation scenarios (if you don’t have X, then please provide Y).

    @Dave: Ha! I wasn’t sure, so I thought I would address both of ‘you’ as separate individuals. You have a valid point, dealing with Google is frustratingly opaque and I’ve called for Google Places to develop some kind of paid, telephone customer support like they do their other enterprise business, Google Apps. So far, no one is listening to that (at least not on Google’s side).

  10. I own and operate a local family owned locksmith business and I have been added and removed from Google places in the past two years. My customers look to Google to find a locksmith in the area and when I dont show up they call my competitors. PLEASE Google I beg you CALL ME! I will gladly give you my business license. I am the one that suggested the idea last year in the forums! Your killing me out here.

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