All posts by Dan Austin

Google Maps Report a Problem: Does It Work For Local Spam?

Google’s crowd sourced map building and listing has succeeded on a number of fronts at allowing maps and listings to be updated at a pace that no one else in the industry can keep up. While the mapping side has little economic incentive for cheating, the listing side is prime for self serving activities. For some period of time there has been an asymmetry in that it seems that it has been easier for the crowd to create spam than for the crowd to get rid of it.

Dan Austin has been active in the MapMaker community for a long time. He has, over the past few years focused on reporting and trying to remove spam from the system particularly in the Locksmith arena.  Here is a case study on his recent experiences with the “Report a Problem” feature; Google’s primary spam reporting mechanism.

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After Bryan Seely released the exploits he used to add false and misleading (spammy) listings to Google Maps on Mike’s blog as well as on Valleywag, Google went into full PR damage control and made some changes in how they handle local spam, including ending phone call PIN code verification for new businesses on Places. After reading this statement from Google, I decided to test whether or not the new Maps Report a problem is effective for removing spam:  

We work hard to remove listings that are reported to violate our policies as quickly as possible, and to check bad actors that try to game the system by altering business descriptions once they are live on Google Maps. We encourage users to let us know when they see something that might violate our guidelines by using our “Report a problem” tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map. Everyday there are thousands of great edits that get made to Google Maps through Map Maker.

The problem with Report a problem is that historically it hasn’t worked very well for spam, in my three years using it to report hundreds of spam listings. Either the response was too slow (often months), and/or unsatisfactory (i.e the spam remained on Maps). My success rate with Report a problem (reporting a wide variety of spam points of interest (POI), including locksmiths), has hovered around 5%, which is why I switched to more effective takedown mechanisms like Google Map Maker (MM) in order to remove spam. Unfortunately, MM itself has become more problematic, with the introduction of GLEs (Google Listing Editors from Places), who are now reviewing edits to claimed listings. They have systematically degraded the effectiveness of MM to the point that it’s now impossible to remove many spam POIs, no matter how obvious, as they have been denying almost all edits (including spam removals) to claimed POIs, or closing the spammy POIs instead of removing them (a business that doesn’t exist can’t, by its very nature, be closed).  

Moreover, after Places segregated Service Area Businesses (SAB) that hid their address from MM, many spammy POIs disappeared from MM altogether, making those impossible to report as well. It also broke the reporting mechanisms on Google+Local Edit detailsfor SABs, which uses MM to report edits (and the Classic Maps Report a problem, which also used MM). Here’s an example of a spam SAB with the address hidden that can’t be reported in either Google+Local or MM:  

Aron Locksmith: https://plus.google.com/103220027599977382429

Place page:  1 Aron Locksmith Google Plus 03022014

Fake reviews from spam profiles:  2 Aron Locksmith Fake Reviews Google Plus 03022014

Clicking on Edit details leads to this error page (which is the same for all SABs on Google+Local that hide their address):   Continue reading Google Maps Report a Problem: Does It Work For Local Spam?