What should Google do about Mapspam?

The recent spate of mapspam at Google left a lot of questions about the future of local:

•Will spam define local’s future?
•How should Google respond to verified reports of Mapspam?
•Is Google’s abuse reporting mechanism adequate?
•When and what technical changes will Google make to prevent future abuse?
•How can the integrity of maps data be guaranteed?
•How should the growing number of small businesses using search marketers pick the right company and interact with them?
•How effective is maps-based marketing?
•Can Google maps expand to fulfill the legitimate business need expressed in spam?

It is this last question I address at SearchEngineland: What should Google about Mapspam?

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Some links of interest in Local

Comparison of Google Maps on the iPhone and N95

Google Maps and the Onebox Hate Advertising Agencies!! EarlPearl has found some interesting aberant results on Google Maps at SEORefugee

Local Housing Gets OneBox Treatment from Google  Miriam has noted the replacement of the Local Onebox with GoogleBase results. This seems to be a trend in some local results that I noted last March in a different search.

comScore Introduces Expanded U.S., Global Search Measurement And Methodology by Greg Sterling at SearchEngine Land. Maybe now we can get some meaningful local numbers. This has been an area that has mostly been filled with speculation and inference.

The many voices of Goog411, dude!

Audio recording of the many voices of Goog411Some seem to adore Goog-411 (like the folks at the Goog-411 Group), Google’s voice activated directory service that uses Map data and some like Chris from NaturalSearch panned it.I fall in between those extremes and while I understand Chris’s criticism about Goog-411’s failings I use the service on a somewhat regular basis despite its annoyances:

•It completes my calls thus offering hands free phone use

•It’s free

•It works more than 80% of the time

•It’s fun

It is fascinating to me to see Google’s Map data set being pushed out over a totally distinct network in a useful fashion although I doubt that the public will start using voice activated directory assistance for category searches in any great volume over the near term.

My usage habits are very entrenched in the city, business name model of directory assistance and I assume most consumers are as well. I suppose there is a certain cool factor that the service has and that the folks at the Goog-411 group go gaga over.Google seems to be making a bid to cater to that cool factor. They have recently changed their intro to the service which announces Goog-411 from a single male voice to a large variety of voices.

Some of them can be heard in the following compendium of voices recently recorded from dialing in to Goog 411:Audio recording of the many voices of Goog411

RentaGeek responds to accusation of Mapspam

Several weeks ago, I reported on the first cases of large scale mapspam at Google Maps. It was followed up with an interesting interview with one of the companies involved. Yesterday, on the Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners blog, the other company (apparently) responded:

TOPIC: Why am I being blacklisted when I have techs in every metro area nationwide? ============================================================================== == 1 of 2 ==

Date: Tues, Aug 14 2007 4:52 pm

From: “rentageekinc.com”

Rent A Geek is a nationwide computer repair company, and has techs all over the whole United States. We had a local business listing in each city, and a couple of other business owners in the area decided to complain, most likely because they cannot compete with our rates, and Google pulled all of our ads. Why is that? If we scour the Google Local Business listing and start complaining about every one of our other competitors, is Google going to be equally as liberal in taking these peoples ads down as well? I feel that Google is being very prejudiced towards our business, and would like to know what can be done to resolve the issue?


While it is arguable that RentaGeek has a legitimate business need to promote their extensive coverage, it is hard to argue that it should be done with obviously faked addresses in every zip code and even harder to argue that Google is being prejudicial in their actions by taking them down for posting obviously wrong information.

Google offers new solution for Mapspam removal: Goodoo

From the Google Maps for Business discussion at Google Groups:

== 1 of 1 == Date: Mon, Aug 6 2007 6:01 pm

From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Hi Mike,

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.

We’re actually working on a solution right now that isn’t just relying on the vigilance of folks such as yourself. To make the bulk upload / Local Business Center world better for everyone, I can’t really tell you anything about what we’re doing to keep these spammy listings from entering the Maps index.

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 accetable practice and what wasn’t and what the consequences of unaccpetable practice would be.

No, there isn’t. We try to be nice and keep things flexible by staying out of the legal repercussions of creating a statement that would confine our users to specific uses of Google Maps. In the future, we may have to revisit the question of whether or not we need a statement such as the one you were looking for.

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

This isn’t in the works yet, as there haven’t been enough reports to warrant one. However, if the volume continues to rise, to a point where this forum is no longer a feasible way to bring our attention to such issues, we’d definitely want to implement a better system.

4)When abuse is reported what is an appropriate timeframe to wait for a response?(I am specifically refering to the report several days ago here bulk upload abuse).

Give the guides in this group a week to get back to you. If you still don’t hear back, sacrifice a goat or vegetable of your choice. Er, I mean, write to us again :o) Cheers, Jen

Dear Jen:

I have just one more question (well maybe more than one):

In this new practice of Goodoo (those mystical steps, combining technology and ancient religious practice needed to remove mapspam or affect a change to a listing in Google Maps) is blood sacrfice permisable? What is the proper role of my Goodoo dolls of THE FOUNDERS? Is just a small pin placed into a sensitive part of their anatomy acceptable practice?

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 TechPro’s CEO speaks about Google Maps Bulk Upload abuse

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.


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?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search