Article at SEL: Despite Fixes, Google Maps Still Vulnerable To Spam

SearchEngineLand is running an opinion piece that I wrote: Despite Fixes, Google Maps Still Vulnerable To Spam which summarizes much of the recent goings on with insecure records at Maps.

In the article I voiced the opinion that Google in unleashing an immature product on us had gained much, while loosing little and that the real loosers were the hijacked businesses. Let me know what you think of the article.

Is Google Maps Battening Down the Hatches?

Gogole Maps is now presenting a stronger indication that a previously claimed record can not be claimed by a second party. This new feature was pointed out to me by the folks from the Inn at Tanglewood Hall, a bed and breakfast in York Harbor, ME:

this-listing-has-been-claim

There are a number of ways to get to the Edit button in a business listing and for now at least, this new message is only available when you click on the pin and then on the edit. One presumes that it will soon be the default response across the board.

Google Maps Hijacker to Boss: “Oops I hijacked the wrong business”

The Locksmith industry brings out the worst in search marketing and where but New York City to get the worst of the worst? A recent trend in hijackings there and elsewhere across the country has been cross industry hijackings where a restaurant or hotel record is stolen by a blackhat locksmith for the benefit of its many reviews.

These hijackings are easy to spot because the volume of reviews is SO high compared to the rest of the listings in the 10-Pack. Note the listings marked with the arrows were hotels or restaurants in Google Maps once upon a time:

10-pack-reviews

But sometimes even the best of bad intentions can go woefully astray. This listing had 785 reviews and each was worst than the last….

Would you shop at a locksmith that couldn’t even steal a good business listing?

reviews1

Is it possible to unhijack a listing? Otherwise this hijacker’s job should be on the line.

Google Maps LBC: Claimed Business Listings Still Being Hijacked?

In June of last year, reports started flowing into Google support groups about hijackings of claimed listings. In December, I communicated to Google a method by which “blackhat” locksmiths were hijacking business records previously claimed via the Local Business Center and which Google had posited as secure. Towards the end of January, Google notified me that this particular vector had been closed and that I was free to talk about it.

It appears though, that claimed records are still able to be hijacked. It was recently reported in the Google Maps forum that a claimed listing has once again been hijacked.

I followed up with the poster. The above record, legitimately claimed in the client’s LBC, was compromised over this past weekend. In emails with other Locksmiths, it appears there are additional reports of hijackings of claimed listings as recently as the past 4 days.

It is unclear whether the same or different tactics are being used. It does seem quite certain that these supposedly secure records are being compromised.

In related news, “blackhat” locksmiths have been compromising unclaimed listings in the hotel and restaurant business. This is similar to the floral hijackings and brand name hijackings during this past year. The blackhats take control of popular restaurant and hotel listings to gain benefit of the many web citations and reviews.
Continue reading Google Maps LBC: Claimed Business Listings Still Being Hijacked?

Google PlusBox – Will Life Imitate Art(?)?

I have written often and critically of Google’s (mis)use of the PlusBox since it was introduced in December 2006:

Google and the PlusBox Blues
Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?
Change Your Address In The Google Plusbox In 5 Simple Steps
An Internet Change of Address Guide

Last April 1, I wrote a post: Local Business Center upgrade now allows Plus Box control that noted that Google was now allowing business owners to more directly control the use of the oft errant PlusBox. Even though the post was a total fabrication, a number of readers and SearchEngineLand gave a huge sigh of relief that this pesky problem generator had been finally fixed. 

Well in a strange twist, it seems that Google may be getting ready to fix the PlusBox in a fashion similar to the one I recommended last April Fools Day. Or at least they are thinking about it. Here is a recent posting at the Google Maps Help Forum:

3/7/09
@Joel

Is the ability of the Local Business Center to feed correct info to the PlusBox new? Will it override strong signals from across the web? How long does it take for it to impact the PlusBox?

In the past, we have seen numerous cases of correct LBC, correct website but incorrect or outdated PlusBox information. 

Mike
***

  Joel H  
Google Employee
4:09 AM

It most circumstances, the Local Business Center’s ‘authority page’ will override the plus box. It can take a couple weeks or more before the change goes live on google.com. There are cases where the strong signals from across the web will override the LBC. 

However, we’ve been actively discussing what’s the right thing to do here. And, I’ll update this group when we make changes to this interaction.

(Note, I have added the bold)

Who knows, maybe this April 1st I will be writing an article titled: Local Business Center upgrade now allows Plus Box control

Google Maps Vs. Mapquest User Engagement

Google has been doing its darndest to catch Mapquest and become the most visited mapping site…seems that they have been succeeding in that, having caught up and possibly passing Mapquest.

If this Google Trends Chart is any indication, it also appears that users are actively looking for Google Maps and that their mind share in search is growing:
trends-mapsvs-mapquest

Google has been adding a number of features that should also increase user engagement. They have added expanded Streetview, Community Edits and more. So why then, does Hitwise show that Google Maps has significantly lower weekly average visit duration times than Mapquest and they are not increasing relative to Mapquest?

avg-visit

How to Fix “Place Closed” in Google Maps

A number of businesses in the Maps Help forums have reported Placed Closed labels being placed on their business listings. This issue was highlighted recently on SearchEngineLand and SEO Roundtable.

It appears that the increase in Place Closed labeling was due to a change on Google’s end and not nefarious community edits. The designation was showing up on both claimed and unclaimed listings. Google Employee Joel has, once again, been providing information and repair strategies in the Forums (Give this man a raise!)

Google Maps Guide Adam has posted an announcement with steps to resolve the dreaded message:

Removing a ‘Place Closed’ Label

Friday, March 6, 2009 | 5:24 PM

 

There was a recent change that displays the label ‘Place Closed’ on some businesses. If the label has been applied incorrectly, it can be corrected with just a few steps.

For listings that have been claimed and verified through the Google Local Business Center, please sign in to your account and select the Edit link. The editing wizard will appear. Click the Submit button.
For listings that aren’t claimed through the Local Business Center, they’re open to community edits. Please select the Edit link below the address and select Restore Place.
The listings will be updated within a few days. If you’re seeing something different, please let us know in our Help Forum, posting a link to the listing in question.
We’re currently evaluating our usage of the label and appreciate the feedback received in this forum regarding the change.

Maps Guide Adam

These types of events highlight the power and pain that is Google Maps. Google tweaks a bit of code, hundreds if not thousands of small business owners are impacted. Some notice and how many do not? I don’t doubt that the messages will continue to come into Maps Forum well into the future.

Google has, at least, put someone in the forums to answer the question and has offered up a fix. They have also highlighted the fix in the announcement area where it will have prominent display. Those are good things and demonstrate a positive direction in real customer support.

But Google’ solution puts the burden back onto the business to fix the error, an error that the business owner had no part in creating and one that affects their income. One can only hope that the overall general improvement in the index from this action was positive and that the number of affected open businesses was small.

Local Links of Interest

Yahoo CEO says she prefers Google Maps to Yahoo Maps – Shane McGlaun, DailyTech.com

Bartz is looking at email as one of the anchors for Yahoo’s business and she says that she ordered ads to be stopped on the companies email service in countries with low bandwidth to provide a better user experience. She said that the ads were slowing down the service and frustrating users. Bartz also said that she prefers Google Maps to Yahoo Maps and thinks that Yahoo has paid little attention to the application.

Bartz’s future vision for Yahoo is to turn it into a portal that is continually visited by its users. She said, “I want the users to wake up in the morning, log into Yahoo, see what’s important, and I want them to do that before they go to bed at night. To do that, we owe them a fun experience, an easy experience, [and] a non-frustrating experience.”

Sheriff Impotent To Stop Craigslist Erotic Ads, Experts Say – Wendy Davis, MediaPost.com

Chicago sheriff Thomas Dart has sued listings site Craigslist for allegedly creating a public nuisance by facilitating prostitution. But Internet law experts say the court will almost certainly dismiss the case because federal law immunizes sites like Craigslist from lawsuits based on material posted by users.

Legislator moves to limit Google Maps because of terrorists – TheStandard.com

A California state legislator has submitted a bill that would limit the amount of detail allowed in images available from applications like Google Maps and Google Earth, contending that terrorists are using such online tools to plot attacks.

Speaking of impotence. This definitely falls into that category. If California legislators are looking to protect their citizens from Maps, they might start by looking at the locksmith scams or the floral hijackings.

Why I Sued Google (and Won) – Aaron Greenspan, HuffingtonPost.com

On January 15, 2009, I walked over to the Santa Clara County courthouse in Palo Alto, which conveniently fell within the same county lines as Google’s home of Mountain View, and filed a civil small claims lawsuit for $721.00–the amount Google owed Think when it disabled the account–using form SC-100. For a total of $40.00 in court fees, I arranged for Google, Inc. to be served by certified mail. The hearing was scheduled for March 2, 2009.

Since lawyers are not permitted in small claims court, Google instead sent Stephanie Milani, a Litigation Paralegal. During the short last-ditch-resolution period before the hearings on the afternoon schedule began, Ms. Milani argued that I must have done something wrong to deserve my fate. When I asked her what, she didn’t know. The AdSense engineers had not told her.

“Google can terminate your account for any reason,” she told me.

“Not any reason,” I said. “Not because I have blue eyes. Or brown eyes.” After being told to quiet down by the courtroom guard, we decided that we had reached an impasse, exchanged documents, and went back into the court room.

Locksmiths flock to Google Maps forum demanding solution

There have been a number of recent posts in the Google Maps forums from apparently legitimate locksmiths that have raised the issue of illegal locksmith activities to new levels.

One locksmith has apparently gone to the extent of hiring a private investigator to track down the locksmith scam artists and posted personal detail about the man he believes is responsible for the activity:

Below you will see some of this person’s information including websites, phone numbers, aliases, relatives, rip off reports, lawsuit information, and scam complaints. Hayim Bennamer’s current partner is Nir Sibsony. You can view Hayim Bennamer on Facebook under the name “Mike Ben Namer” Date of Birth Aug-30-1974

Hayim Bennamer is currently the owner/president/registered agent of Reliable Locksmith in Miami. A locksmith company that has many rip off reports associated with them. Reliable Locksmith has been know for scams, complaints, unfair competition with other locksmiths as well as many other fraudulent activities. Below you will find Reliable Locksmith’s incorporation information from the Florida Department of Corporations. If you put in google search reliable locksmith scams or reliable locksmith rip-off, or their associated phone numbers with scam and/or rip off in the end, you will immediately see some of the scams within the locksmith and moving company industries.

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS INFORMATION WAS GATHERED BY THE HIRING OF A PRIVATE INVESTIGATION COMPANY TO INVESTIGATE AND RESEARCH THE PERSON OR PERSONS INVOLVED SCAMS, FRAUD AND DECEPTIVE TRADE PRACTICES. THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT ONLY SCAMMING THE CUSTOMERS BUT THEY ARE A THREAT TO OTHER LOCKSMITHS, MOVERS AND CARPET CLEANERS, ETC.

Another has challenged the scammers to meet at his place of business and accused the Yellowpages.com of being complicit with them. He noted that the scammers were Cowards and that:

I state here and now that I have evidence to support that yellowpages.com in particular is sleeping with you in this whole affair as many legitimate locksmiths are actually being scammed by yellowpages.com into thinking they need to heighten their internet presence amidst all the laughable supply of locksmith listings. I agree with the earlier post that any legitimate locksmith deciding where to invest advertising dollars online to keep a tight hold on their wallet until these fools either get mudered, thrown in jail or buried under 20 feet or earth. Prove to me you are not cowards by meeting me. My address: 124 Price Station Rd. Church Hill MD 21623 My phone number 410-556-6250. I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which protect my country and guard our American way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

The post has been modified somewhat since last night and now includes this snippet as well:

I hereby offer $5000 CASH reward to ANY individual who can escort me to the mastermind of this criminal enterprise.They must be able to prove it by showing me their domain manager account and third party telco listings. You are dealing with a monster, any veteran of MLA knows it and I am anxious to die in my effort to defeat you.

Google seems to have begun to step into the breach as it appears that, at least in NYC, much of the spam that I noted on February 25th for the phrase Emergency Locksmiths NY NY has been replaced with legitimate looking listings. It remains to be seen if spam has been removed countrywide.

Here are before and after screenshots of the Local 10 Pack for the phrase Emergency Locksmiths NY NY.
Continue reading Locksmiths flock to Google Maps forum demanding solution

LBC Use Case: When NOT to delete an LBC listing

Updated by Joel 03/04/09 9:00 PM EST

The question of how to suspend/delete a duplicate listing in the Local Business Center has always been somewhat confusing. Several readers had reported, and I had experienced, the outcome that if not done properly EVERYTHING IS REMOVED from Maps. It leaves one a little gun shy.

Here is a recap of a recent interchange between myself and Joel, a Google Employee, that has been frequenting the Map’ support areas and providing incredibly useful answers.

My hat is off to Joel and if this is a trend, to Google, for actually putting someone in the Help forums that answers questions and increases our understanding of Maps and the LBC:
***

Question: How do I know which listings I can delete?

Stevenash   

Level 1 2/27/09
I have three listings all with the same name and address.  One has photos the other two don’t.  All three say they have each displayed the same number of times.  The only one I ever actually see displayed has is the one with the photos yet when I deactivate the other two, none show in the search results.  What’s going on? 

All answers

Joel H   

Google Employee 2/27/09
Hi Steve, I see three duplicate listings in your account. It appears as if you’ve suspended two of these listings. These listings are conflated on our maps, and when you choose to suspend one entry in your account, it will suppress the entire listing on Maps. I suggestion you do the following:
1. Click Resume display on Google Maps for each suspended listing. The listings now appear with two links: Edit Delete.
2. Select Delete. A confirmation window appears with two options: Remove this listing from Google Maps & Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account.
3. Select Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account
This way, the listing on Maps will continue to appear. Otherwise, we think you’re trying to remove it. Since all three listings are PIN verified, we accept the last action as the final action on the listing.  Hope that information helps. Cheers, Joel
***
mblumenthal   

Contributor 3/1/09
Joel   

When you remove the listing from the LBC account and it returns to the index as not claimed
1)Is this not a violation of the Guidelines?
and
2)Is the listing not eligible for community editing?
Mike
***
Joel H   

Google Employee 3/1/09
In this case, Steve just has a bunch of duplicates. Notice that he indicates that all three have the same display counts? That’s a clue that the multiple listings in his account are being combine into a single listing on Maps. Removing the extra listings, in my opinion, makes account management a bit simpler.
I’m not sure what part of the guidelines you refer to – I assume you mean having multiple listings for one business? In Steve’s case, it appears he added extra listings by mistake – not to keyword/location spam our system. These mistakes are tolerable and don’t violate the spirit of our quality guidelines.
If all listings are removed from the account, the listings must be re-added & verified in order to update the information, by Steve or anyone else. They aren’t community editable. That functionality may change in the future, but for now, it remains ‘locked.’
***
mblumenthal   

Contributor 3/1/09
OK but then there will be another listing floating around the index that    

1)may not have current information at some future point and 
2)may accrue reviews. 
That doesn’t seem optimal.
Will it ultimately be merged with the original or deleted from the index?
Mike
***
Joel H   

Google Employee 12:50 AM
I’m sorry if there’s confusion.
The listings are already merged. All the listings in Steve’s account are associated with a single location & listing appearing on maps.google.com. That one listing has the current information and accrues reviews.
Make sense?

 ***

mblumenthal   

Contributor 6:42 AM
Joel
I am a little slow on the uptake. The English language is all I have and it seems to be failing in this moment. 

I am going to repeat my understanding, you nod your head yes if I have actually understood…

We have 3 claimed, not suspended (?) listings in the LBC which are identical. They each show the same impressions and views which means that Google has in fact merged/conflated them to one visual record in Maps but has not done so in the LBC. 
The above directions are to:
1. Click Resume display on Google Maps for each suspended listing. The listings now appear with two links: Edit Delete.
2. Select Delete. A confirmation window appears with two options: Remove this listing from Google Maps & Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account.
3. Select Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account
So when I choose Resume display on Google Maps, they will not actually resume display in Maps independently of the conflated cluster and of the main record that I still have in my account? 
***
Joel H   

Google Employee 9:38 AM
Head nodding yes :-)
***
mblumenthal   

Contributor 10:04 AM
Never one to stop at 3 when my understanding could be improved with 4 questions…..   

Are there cases where the same listings do not yet have the same impressions/views and are thus not yet merged? Would the procedure in this case be the same?
Mike
***

Joel H   

Google Employee 10:09 AM
In the case of differing statistics (impressions/views), they are distinct listing on Maps, and Remove this listing from Google Maps is the right option. It’s likely you’ll want to choose the listing with less impressions or views.
***

Joel H

Google Employee
8:57 PM

UPDATE: I got this a bit wrong. I apologize.

The only time you want to remove the listing from Maps is when the business is permanently closed OR you never want it to appear on Maps. If there are duplicates in your account, keep them. When I initially posted, I didn’t think about the ongoing process we have to merge duplicate listings on Maps. Because we do our best to merge duplicate listings on Maps, it’s possible that selecting Remove this listing from Google Maps may actually suppress a preferred listing in the future (the process of conflating listing happens regularly). We’ll keep our eye out for duplicate, Local Business Center verified listings, and work to refine our systems to merge the right listings as soon as we can. Until then, keep the conversation going on this topic, and we’ll be happy to continue to help as best we can. 

————————————————————-

In the case of differing statistics (impressions/views), they are distinct listing on Maps, and Remove this listing from Google Maps is the right option. It’s likely you’ll want to choose the listing with less impressions or views.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search