The mysterious hand of Google….

It is Sunday and the “We Buy Houses Mapsspam are no longer visible in the Google Maps index.

This particular case was reported to Google on August 1 in the
Google Maps for Business Blog.

This particular abuse was much more limited in scope than
the Computer Repair abuse in that it only targeted large metro areas rather than every zip code and only returned results on a brand rather than a broad search term. Additionally the listings disappeared after just 4 days rather than the 2 weeks of the original exploit.

Batten down the hatches: More Google MapSpaM on the way to a Local Map near you?

The Google Maps for Business blog:

== 1 of 1 == Date: Thurs, Aug 2 2007 5:51 pm

From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Hi Bonehead, Mike, Joe, fowen, and other business owners,

Thanks so much for asking about and flagging the unverified listings of TechPros and RentaGeek.

We take the rights of those business owners with legitimate listings very seriously, and we’re working on long-term solutions to prevent situations like this most recent one from occurring again. As the Local Business Center and the number of listings in Google Maps continues to develop and expand, these types of issues may also become more prevalent. We’re glad and grateful that users such as yourselves continue to be honest and vigilant in helping to bring our attention to potential abuses of Google Maps. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Thank you! Jen

(bold is mine)

My response to our beloved (but soon to be very harried) Jen:

Hi Jen

Thanks for your response. I have lots of questions:

1)How soon can we expect to see a technological solution to this problem? Relying on vigilant readers seems to be the proverbial finger in the dam.

2)Is there a clear statement of what is acceptable practice for bulk upload? If so where? I looked but could not find a simple summary of what was acceptable practice and what wasn’t and what the consequences of unacceptable practice would be.

3)Will there be a standardized and more responsive mechanism for reporting abuse than these forums if we can expect these issues to become more prevalent?

Mike Blumenthal

TechPro’s CEO speaks about Google Maps Bulk Upload abuse

This morning I had a long and interesting conversation with the President & CEO Gabriel Howard of TechPros, one of the companies that was involved in the Bulk Upload issues reported last week. The interview is lengthy and is included at the end of this post in its entirety.

The upshot (as reported by the company):

•They had outsourced their search marketing to a firm in Seattle

•The management team was unaware of the Maps issue until their inbox was bulging with Google Alerts on Monday

•On Monday, they requested that the search firm remove all of the listings.

The interview is a case study in how a good idea can go bad without proper oversight and understanding, how privacy is not possible in the realm of the internet, how small businesses need to understand what they are buying when they buy Search services and ultimately how powerful a marketing tool Google Maps really is.

Here is the interview in full (you should make your own mind up as to TechPro’s responsibilty and fault): Continue reading

Additional report of abuse at Google Maps

Today at the Google Maps-For-Business Group another report of bul upload abuse surfaced.

This time the culprit is in the “We Buy Houses” refinance industry. Like the previous case, all of the entires use a common street address (500 Main) and 800 number. Unlike the previous reports, these appear to only be listed in major metro markets (Portland, Vancouver, Buffalo) but not in smaller markets (Jamestown, NY or Olean NY).

It was reported last night (hats of to earlpearl), that Google had removed the previously reported spam. It appears that they have their work cut out for them chasing spammers.

On a related note, I am taking nominations for a succinct phrase to describe this new practice. Spapping? Serial Map abuse? Mapbuse? Let me know.

webuyhouses.jpg

Google removes bulk upload spam?

Update 11:30 8/2- I just completed a phone conversation with the CEO of TechPros who noted that they had the listings removed. The interview will be posted later today.

An alert reader, earlpearl, has noted that as of today at 6:30, Google had removed the offending listings from Google MapsThe event brought several issues with Google Maps into sharper focus. Firstly, it is clear that the bulk upload capability needs some form of verification process. If it can be abused, it will be. However the problem of verifying multiple remote locations is a difficult one. Minimally checking to see that the street address is a real one would be a start, although not much of one.

Secondly, there is legitimate need for many businesses to be listed without a real address. For example the plumber that does house calls but has no street address other than his home.

Thirdly there is the issue of businesses that serve larger geographic areas than Google Maps allows them to display in. For example the urban store that services the burbs or the regional rurul business that services a number of surrounding towns.

And fourthly, is there a meaningful way for large national chains with outsourced services to be equitably represented? Or should they be?

First Case of Large Scale Abuse at Google Maps?

In the past there have been tales of skullduggery (see: Beware: Competitor Hijacks Google Local Business Listing? Maybe, Maybe Not!) at Google Maps which have proven to be false. It appeared that Google Map’s verification system was robust and while there may have been algorhytmic problems, there had been no reports of abuse….until recently.

It appears that some companies are managing to spam Google Maps local listings via Bulk Upload. This abuse was first reported to Google in the Maps for Business Group on 7/19/07 and substantiated on 7/20/07. Google’s response from Maps Guide Jen:

Right now there’s no easy way to report these listings or get them removed,
especially if there’s a lot of them. If you can let me know the specific
search term that you’re looking at, I might be able to do a quick quality
check.

The abuse reported was multiple local listings by TechPros. In a brief check of other areas, their listings were found in all major and minor metropolitan areas of the US that I checked (perhaps in every zip code), using the exact same PO Box and phone number on every lisitng. In the example shown below Google Maps show 487 results for Techpros near Chicago, IL. Google is also showing 264 for Techpros near Olean, NY (by way of reference Olean barely supports 5 computer repair facilities).

techpro.jpg

rentageek.jpgA similar situation seems to exist for a company called RentAGeekInc.com, showing results of 148 for Rent a Geek near Olean, NY and 603 for Rent a Geek near Chicago, IL (click on image at right for a screen capture of results).

It is important for public confidence that Google not only take care of these listings immediately by removing them but that they implement a better system for preventing these types of entries in the future.

Privacy and Goog-411

The new Street View has once again raised the spectre of privacy concerns. I have trouble worrying about photos invading my privacy. I try not to walk around in public naked.
On the other hand there has been an informative and provocative discussion at the Goog-411 Google Group about the privacy implications of Goog-411 and Google knowing your number and the number of those you are calling. The implications of Google’s Click to call from your browser, pda or cellphone will be even greater as Google has the ability to correlate your on-line and off-line activities.

Local Links of Interest

Experiment with Google Voice Local Search -Naturalsearchblog

Google patent app shows extensive Google plans for mobile search -ZDNET Blogs, Russell Shaw

Local Mobile Search Ready to Roll?-Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

Yahoo! Real Estate Updates Home Values Search with Maps and Local -Yahoo! Local & Maps Blog

Measuring the Impact of Universal Search on Local Search Traffic -Naffziger’s Net

Refining Queries Using Category Synonyms for Local and Other Searches – Seo by The Sea

Developing Knowledge about Local Search