Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That!

Last week I made fun of blackhats that had mapjacked a listing for a hotel with the worst of reviews in an effort to rank high on locksmith related searches.  The screenshot from that incident shows that the blackhats had 7 of the 10 pack listing using a combination of illicit techniques on the phrase Manhattan Locksmith New York, NY.

The listings have been changing quite a bit of late and it appears that Google is trying to clean things up. Today though, a poster in the Google Maps Help Forum noted that the blackhats seemed to have changed tactics and are no longer relying on cross industry hijackings. Never ones to be satisfied with half a dozen when they can have it all, the mapspammers now have 10 of the 10 Pack listings for the search phrase Manhattan Locksmith New York, NY:

take-that

These folks are good! (For any Googler reading who might misinterpret my writing, that phrase means that they are competent at being crooks not that they are moral or decent….just wanted to be clear). I really am cheering for Google but do they ever have their work cut out for them. Here is the screen shot from 3/11:

Continue reading Blackhats to Google Maps: Take That!

Ads added to Google Maps API

Google has been distributing ads more widely on all of its properties of late. I noted a certain discomfort with their intrusive nature deep inside the bowels of the business listing details when it was roled out in mid February in Maps. At the Maps help forum a business owner asked (caps are his and I assume intended):
HOW OR WHY CAN ANOTHER BUSINESS ADVERTISE ON MY REVIEWS?

THERE ARE FIVE REVIEWS ON MY LISTING, ONE POOR ONE FROM SOMEONE WHO ADMITS TO NOT EVEN STAYING AT MY GUESTHOUSE AN ANOTHER ADVERTISING HER GUESTHOUSE. I CANNOT CONTACT ANYONE TO GET ANYTHING DONE ABOUT THIS, IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE OR ARE WE BEING RUN BY A COMPUTER NOW. I’M SCARED I THINK THEY HAVE LANDED.

Maps API Ads Now the Google Geo Developers Blog has announced that they have changed the API to show ads along with searches for local businesses performed through the API:

As many of you already know, developers can use the GoogleBar control in the Maps API to allow users to search the map for local businesses, landmarks and points of interest. As part of Google’s ongoing commitment to improve user and developer experience, we have some changes coming up for the humble GoogleBar. Most importantly, we are adding advertising targeted to the user’s searches. We hope that this, as with all Google advertising, will improve the user experience by providing targeted and relevant sponsored results. You will benefit from this as well, as you can make money from these Google ads provided on Maps API sites (see below).

Clearly, Google runs a risk of alienating developers, users and businesses with their new strategy. But the feedback has been mixed with some posters noting that the ads bring additional relevance. I am not so sure.

Local Links of Interest

Gate Keepers, Digital Gazetteers and Folksonomies – Part Four and Gate Keepers, Digital Gazetteers and Folksonomies – Part Five – Mike Dobson, Exploring Local

Mike Dobson has been running a great series on Google use of user generated content to create maps via their MapMaker product. In Part Four, he discusses the strategic role of UGC for Google and in Part Five he covers how google might be determining the accuracy and usefulness of the data.

In Part Four he noted that Google is likely already using ugc data collected from MapMaker in Google Maps. He also noted that “Google’s map applications drive a substantial amount of traffic to Google’s online properties and since they will now have detailed maps of areas that no one else has, Google’s comprehensive map coverage strategy could become a traffic driving bonanza and a competitive advantage.” I would contend that it already has done so in many parts of the world.

In Part Five, he references some work by Muki Haklay comparing the accuracy of the user generated content of OpenStreets and the more formally gathered data of the English government’s professional geo data collection unit, the OS (ordnance Survey). He concluded that the ugc content of OpenStreets was “fairly accurate” and if MapMaker was of roughly equal quality would suffice for Google’s needs.

If you want to learn how map’s work in the digital age, Mike Dobson’s blog is a great place to gain some of that knowledge

First Came Geo-Awareness, Then Came Geo-Aware Malware – Read Write Web via the NY Times

There is something different about the latest variant of the Waledac worm: it uses geolocation services to target its intended victims. Initially, the Waledac worm sends a spam email message claiming there has been a dirty bomb explosion in “your city.” If the victim clicks through on the provided link, the worm then uses a geo-IP lookup service to customize the story appearing on the malicious site which is designed to look like that of news agency Reuters.

iPhone OS 3.0 roundup: Push notification, cut and paste, and more – Venture Beat, via the NY Times

Unless you are completely tone deaf, you have probably seen this elsewhere but the Push Notification has significant implications for Local apps and even local advertising. The new Google Maps API for the iPhone also offers promise of turn by turn directions and more. But will the lack of background application support make Maps less powerful than it could be?

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.

Local Links of Interest

Twitter and UK newspaper websites – Robin Goad,  Hitwise UK.

Last week (w/e 14/03/09) Twitter.com was the 54th most visited website in the UK, up from 66th the week before. One consequence of Twitter rapid rise up the rankings is that the micro-blogging service has now overtaken most of the UK newspapers online. As the chart below illustrates, last week Twitter received more UK Internet visits than the homepages of the GuardianTimesSun and Telegraph. It also over took Google News UK. Of the main newspaper homepages, only the Daily Mail received more UK Internet visits than Twitter last week.
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New AOL Chief Tim Armstrong is Big Champion of Local – Peter Krasilovsky, Local Onliner

Tim Armstrong, AOL’s new CEO, is a very big believer in local, with personal investments in a New York-area hyperlocal site (Patch) via his Polar Investments. Moreover, as head of sales for Google, he has frequently commented on his interests in developing local.
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Computer Makers Prepare to Stake Bigger Claim in Phones – Ashlee Vance, NY Times

The computer industry has hit upon its Next Big Thing. It is called a phone.

The companies are also shifting gears because their technological feats of the last two decades — smaller laptops with faster chips to deliver snazzier graphics — no longer impress consumers, who increasingly find their three-year-old computers adequate for everyday tasks.
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3G Phones Exposing Networks’ Last-Gen Technology – Matt Richtel, NY Times

Oh, the things modern mobile phones can do. They are music-playing, video-taking, direction-providing multimedia powerhouses. But many people have trouble getting them to perform their most basic functions, like making phone calls.

The underlying problem, industry analysts say, is the complex quilt of the nation’s wireless networks. The major mobile carriers have spent tens of billions of dollars on new voice and data networks that they advertise as superfast wireless express lanes. But analysts say these upgrades present major engineering challenges, and the networks often underperform.

Got Local Search Optimization? Start here! – Aleyda Solis, AleydaBlog

Aleyda has assembled a nice range of articles from the past 3 years of writings in Local Search and the summary provides a great starting point for someone who is just getting started in Local and wants to catch up.

The Plaza Hotel is Mapjacked

Update I am happy to note that The Plaza has been returned to its rightful glory as of this evening (3/16/09). Unfortunately the spammers domain 24x7locallocksmith.com still has 229 entries in the index across the US.

The Plaza Hotel in NYC has been an important, even iconic, location for events real and imagined in American life. It occupies a a storied place in the American narrative. Truman Capote hosted his acclaimed “Black & White Ball” in the Grand Ballroom in 1966. It has served as a backdrop for over 15 movies and TV shows including North by Northwest, the Sopranos, Home Alone and Crocodile Dundee.

It once again is playing a leading role in America’s newest drama…its business listing has been mapjacked by Locksmith’s, in the ongoing saqa of mapspam in Google Maps. When you search on The Plaza, NY NY this is what you see:
plaza-search

The hijacking of the Google Maps listing of the Plaza Listing was done by Locksmiths to achieve a high ranking on the phrase Locksmith NYC:

locksmith-search

When you click through to the reviews via either listing this is what is presented:
Continue reading The Plaza Hotel is Mapjacked

Google Maps: Will More Fully Integrated User Created Content Generate Mapspam?

In the past I have written extensively about how Google was indexing KML & RSS files and integrating that information into Maps and why that made having your own kml information and geo sitemap important.

At the LatLong Blog, Google has announced that this user generated map content will now be more fully integrated with Maps results:

[W]e’ve recently taken yet another step on our quest to make Google Maps more user driven: fully blending user-created content into our search results.

Some of our more regular users may have noticed that we’d been sparingly doing this for a while now, occasionally surfacing results from KML, GeoRSS, or Wikipedia we crawl from the web, along with photos and videos we think would be useful – but now we’ve opened the floodgates! From now on, you can expect to see more higher quality user-created content to show up, often intermixed with our traditional results.

As examples of this integration google noted non mainstream searches that would not like have many IYP type entries like “falafel carts in nyc” and “bridge collapse in MN“. My own example would be “squirrels in Olean NY“.

It is conceivable to me that user generated content might offer a way to expand a business categories on the very long tail of local searches. Given the low volume of users currently inside of Maps (just how low you ask? well lets not go there…) compared to those seeing the 10Pack, this might not produce incredible immediate results. But Maps traffic is on the rise and the highlighting of this content might provide significant future benefit. 

This raises a number of questions:

1)Will these results be visibly integrated with businesses that have strong category presence now?
2)How will they rank this content? Will it use a similar system to the current maps ranking algo?
3)Will it start showing up in the Local 10-Pack?
4)Will spammers be able to use it to infiltrate traditional category rankings?
5)Will Google put spam guards in early on or will they wait until it is a tidal wave?

Blumenthal accused of Bad Humor: Pleads Guilty

Yesterday in my post making fun of Locksmith Hijackers picking inappropriate targets to hijack, I made a geeky Maps log joke that was so ludricous on all levels that I could not conceive of even one person taking it at face value…I was wrong both as to the potential humor and to the fact that not even one person could take it at face value…. it obviously was taken seriously by more than one person. To those folks I apologize.

Google Maps Fixes Newest Hack & Adds Private Mapspam Reporting Form

Maps Guide Jen has commented that Google has now fixed the most recent hack that allowed records claimed in the Local Business Center to be hijacked:

Hi Mike,
Thanks again for bringing these cases to our attention. The issue involved was different from the ones that affected listings a few months ago. Like those, it’s now fixed.

Maps Guide Jen has also noted in her comments that there is now a Mapspam reporting form that replaces the previous publicly visible reporting thread in the Maps Help forum:

As you all know, we’re working hard to clean up the spam on Maps, and to make it easier and easier for business owners to make sure their listings are accurate. Keep sending your reports to us at “Report an instance of a user spamming Google Maps business listings” found here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=contact_policy

Sincerely,
Jen

The Mapspam reporting form is available in the Contact Options area of Maps Help.

The form (visible below) will hopefully encourage more active and detailed reporting of Mapspam to Google. In removing the postings from the public domain, though, it may also make it harder to bring the critical transparency to Google Maps that it obviously needs.

Continue reading Google Maps Fixes Newest Hack & Adds Private Mapspam Reporting Form

Will MapMaker + Steetview Replace TeleAtlas?

In January I speculated Google’s Streetview Data be could used to replace TeleAtlas. One of the elements missing from this scenario was that TeleAtlas also provides Google with routing information and Google had not yet developed routing capacity.

Well it appears now that Google has internally developed directional routing and has released it in their Map Maker product serving the many markets world wide not covered by TeleAtlas or NavTeq. 

From the Google Lat Long Blog announcement:

Over the past few months, users have created rich and comprehensive maps in 164 countries around the world. Today with our newly launched feature on Google Map Maker, you can get driving directions in regions where this was not previously available.

Interestingly, consistent with the wiki nature of Map Maker, this feature allows for user correction and editing of the routes:

In the spirit of Map Maker, you can correct the directions as appropriate. Note that for every turn in the directions, you can edit the intersection details such as name and whether turns are allowed or not (known as turn restrictions). 

It appears to me that this feature is one more way stop on the way to Google’s complete control over the Maps data set and the cutting out of TeleAtlas from the process.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search