Apple and the Court of Public Opinion – Do 51% Support the FBI?

Opinion polls are an ever present part of our society. All too often, in the absence of real democracy, they seem to take on the role of the “people’s voice” in public debates.

I was fascinated by the recent headline from the Verge declaring More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI, finds Pew survey and from the NY Times declaring In Poll on Apple, Public Sides with F.B.I..

Clearly the people had spoken. Or had they? Firstly Apple is a global company with 2/3 of their sale from outside the US. So it isn’t clear that the opinion of its US customers should come before those of other countries.

But more importantly polls are just samplings with their own biases. What did it mean for the NY Times to declare that a majority (51%) of the respondents sided with the FBI when by Pew’s own admission they had 24% of respondents admitted to knowing nothing about the case.

I decided to run my own survey of the US internet users as well as adult internet users in Canada, Australia and the U.K. In an attempt to replicate Pew’s results I made the question exactly the same. Unsurprisingly the answer to my survey did not produce a 51% majority and is much more ambiguous with ~32% holding no opinion:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.19.37

We see even more ambiguous results in the UK with ~47% expressing no opinion

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Similar results from Canada

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And from Australia

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In all four countries, the percentage of people that thought Apple should unlock the phone was in the mid 30’s and very close given the margin of error noted in the survey (in parenthesis for each result). But in no country was their a clear majority favoring Apple unlocking the phone.

And given the high percentage of folks in all of the countries that had no opinion including the US, it seems premature for the NY Times to declare that More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI. 

Why the differences? Polls are not science. A lot depends on the context and presentation. Even the questions create bias. I, in emulating Pew, asked simply about unlocking the phone. The actual request is much more complicated than that and in fact Apple needs to create a custom version of their OS. Perhaps if I had asked that the answer would have been more definite one way or the other.

As much as possible pollsters attempt to remove their own biases but even things like the way a question was asked or the order that it was asked can impact outcome. For example in the case of the Pew survey,  there were 6 questions asked prior to asking the principal question and we have no idea what five of them were. The sixth question immediately preceding the main question could also have set the stage for an inflated answer:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.33.00

All surveys have a margin of error built in based on how large and representative the sample is. In the case of Pew, they asked 1000 people which is large enough to be sure that the margin of error is reasonable but it was not stated as to how much it actually was. That being said, making definitive conclusions as they do about attitudes of sub groups within the sample becomes much less reliable and will likely have a much greater (but non stated) margin of error.

Pew for example found no significant age preferences while the Google survey found a very strong age based preference:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.39.13

Finally methodology affects outcome. My surveys were done using Google Survey which admittedly only sample the US Adult Internet Population.

So has the US public decided? Has the greater global public decided (which is really Apple’s audience)? As much as Pew proclaims that they have I would assert that the court of public opinion, like our Supreme Court, is pretty evenly split and nowhere near a majority.

Here are the links to my surveys so that you can examine the results for yourself:

US Survey

UK Survey

Australian Survey

Canadian Survey

Google My Business Categories By Country

With the release of V2 of the Google My Business API, Google simultaneously released categories for each of the 135 countries currently supported by the GMB. I noted it at the time but it was lost in the article but I wanted to be sure that folks so these categories and downloaded them if they needed to.


The category files list all of the business categories used by Google My Business. Download category files for the countries in which you are interested in creating locations. Each country has a different set of valid categories.

The list of available categories may change at any time.


Google MyBusiness Now Surfacing Web Verify Option

If a local business had a website verified in the Google Search Console  prior to verifying in Local, Google would on occasion auto verify the local listing without the need for a post card or phone call.

Previously this would just happen with no forward facing interface and would often be a surprise to the claimant.

Now, according to this screen shot captured by Avinash Murthy (@avinash4dvg) it appears that there is now a viable interface choice to allow for instant verification when it is available.  

This option has not been readily available to most businesses and even those with a common log-in and a verified Search Console site were not always offered the option. Here’s hoping that this new interface upgrade means that Google will be extending the program more broadly.

Local U Advanced in Historic Williamsburg – Early Bird Special is Ending

Our spring Local U Advanced in Williamsburg is one of my favorite conferences… its laser focused on Local search, the group is intimate and collegial, the content is state of the art…. And this year, David Mihm claims that the IPAs will be to die for (you won’t be able to tell by me).

All of the regulars will be there including David, Mary Bowling, myself, Mike Ramsey & Will Scott and more. We will be joined by Andrew Shotland who will be speaking about Apple local search and Joy Hawkins who will be diving deep (very deep) into problems and solutions with Google GMB and listings.

Early Bird Pricing Ends at Midnight – Only $699

Whether you run an agency that serves brick-and-mortar businesses, work in-house for a large brand or Internet Yellow Pages publisher, or are trying to find the hottest opportunity in the bloodiest of all bleeding edges in search marketing, you won’t want to miss Local U Advanced Training.

Early Bird Special pricing of $699 ends tonight at midnight and you can still get hotel for $121 a night (plus fees). Book now! 


NY Attorney General Comes Down on Review Abuses – Again

Today, NY attorney General  Schneiderman announced a  settlement with four companies in regards posting fraudulent content in the form of reviews and pay for play testimonials. Penalties ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 and included both NY and Californian companies.

Schneiderman has led the states in enforcement in this area having previously settled similar review abuse cases in the fall of 2013. Settlements were announced with four companies; Machinima, Premier Retail Group, ESIOHInternet Marketing and Rani Spa.

Machinima, Inc. is a California-based online entertainment network that distributes video content relating to video games that paid “influencers” to endorse the Microsoft Xbox and certain games. In return for free and pre release access, the influencers posted YouTube videos and received as much as $30,000 in payment but failed to disclose that Machinima had offered compensation in exchange for creating and uploading the videos.

Premier Retail Group, Inc. is a chain of cosmetic and beauty supply stores with locations throughout the US and NY “solicited reviewers through advertisements posted on to write positive reviews in exchange for free samples, free vouchers or other compensation. There was no requirement that the reviewer visit a Premier Retail Group location or that the reviewers disclose that they were compensated for the review”. The company paid reviewers $25 for each review link submitted and an additional $50 if the review was still standing in two weeks. They paid for “over 30 fraudulent reviews” and incurred a fine of $50,000. $30,000 of that fine is suspended if they comply with the terms of the agreement. (some quick math: 35 review cost 35 X $75 +$20,000 for a net cost of $646 per review).

Here2Four, Incorporated, d/b/a ESIOH Internet Marketing, is a California internet marketing company that “solicited over 50 freelance writers on websites such as and to write over 200 fake reviews of its small-business clients for $10 to $15 per [ficticous] review”. Apparently some of which were filtered by Yelp. Their fine was $15,000.

Rani Spa operates several locations in NYC and on Long Island that contracted with a Canadian businessman  who “offered to boost Rani Spa’s online reputation by posting fictitious positive reviews on”.

“[He] explained in an email how he only posts one review per day so as not to ‘make it look suspicious’ and get past Yelp’s spam review filter”. He charged “$300 per month. Not $300 to get 4.5 stars because of the difficulty”.

Rani Spa agreed to stop posting fake reviews and agreed to a fine of $50,000. $48,000 of that fine is suspended assuming compliance and in consideration of the “financial condition of the company”.

Obviously, NY State is NOT fake review friendly.

In the spirit of full disclosure I am a principal in the reputation development company

JC Penny’s Offers $500 Sweepstake Entry for a Review – Is it legal?

My wife is redoing our living room and recently ordered replacement curtains from JC Penny.  As you know I also helped create GetFiveStars (although I am not helping with the living room) but anything in regards to reviews gets my attention. So I was surprised last week when JC Penny asked me to write a review about the curtains.:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 12.37.19 PM

Several other things about it surprised me as well. One was that the call to action to write the review link was tiny, effectively buried in the bold red graphics. And secondly it surprised me that there was a sweepstakes contest at all. Aren’t contests for reviews illegal?

I dutifully clicked the link to be brought to a review and survey page that could only have been written by a committee with more requests for more types of feedback, reviews & ratings than any one human is likely to ever complete. Although now the stakes seem to have been raised to $1000 from the original $500.

Submit a new review-without-highlight
Click to view larger
Ever curious, I continued to scroll down the page trying to figure the whole thing out when I saw, far down the page, that I needed to opt in to the sweepstakes via a check the box to be eligible:

Submit a new review copy-check-box

Never one to be slowed by a long form and what turned into an even longer set of rules, I clicked the See Details link and started reading the rules required for me to enter into the contest. As I read through the 2051 words that made up the guidelines I came upon the one nugget detailed about one fourth of the way in that lead to the epiphany:


Effectively that buried requirement would mean that 1)the contest was in fact legal 2)that very few souls would actually enter the contest by checking the check box and that 3)even if they did, they still wouldn’t know they needed to have the “secret code words” in their reviews to enter the contest. Those users that did check the box and dutifully wrote the review would not realize that they were not in the contest. The way its arranged JC Penny might not even be out the $500 (or is it $1000?).

The legality: Why did this make the review incentive legal? Incentives per se are not against the FTC rules. What is against the rules is not noting the incentives in the reviews so that readers would know that the reviews may have been influenced by money. These reviews would clearly indicate that.

The unlikely outcome: Given the length of the form, the almost hidden requirement for the opt in and the arcane requirements for entry mean that most reviews will not in fact be eligible to win the contest. But, because those users that did write reviews but didn’t make the Sweepstakes Entry comment weren’t actually entered into the contest, they were likely legal.

This “crafty” program will mean JC Pennys will get lots of reviews with promise of reward without the users actually entering the contest or being eligible for the reward.

Illegal? No or probably not. Totally disingenuous and deceptive yes. A plan that was likely concocted by a Reputation management expert and a lawyer. What a combo.

But I persisted. And I am now one of the (likely) few entrants in the contest. I will let you know if I win (and how much).

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Video: A Look Back (& Forward) at “The Big 4” in Local

Join Mary bowling, Aaron Weiche and myself at as we discuss the past year and the major directions of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon in Local. What are the trends and how should you respond?Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 10.05.27 AM



The Deep Dive Video Series is a weekly discussion of an important aspect of Local. They are part of our weekly update (paywall) that appear first on the Local U forum.

Here are some recent previous Deep Dives that will give you a flavor of the ongoing discussions:

We hope you will join us at LocalU for this regular feature.

Google Trusted Verifier Program – What is it? Where is it?

Early today at Linda’s forum and the Local U forum it was reported that Google had rolled out a Google Trusted Verifier Program that allowed folks in the field to verify a business while on site, using an Android app. It now appears that the help files were released prematurely and they were all removed from Google or only made available to beta testers. .

We have posted some of high level details from the now removed documentation on the Local U Blog.

Become a Google Trusted Tester for New GMB/Adwords Products

Living_Crash_Test_Dummies_2Google is looking for folks to test upcoming SMB products:

The Google My Business and Ads teams are working on several new product features in 2016 to improve overall merchant/advertiser engagement and value. Before releasing these products/features to the general public, we want to beta test them with a group of trusted business testers who are willing to use these features and provide detailed feedback to our product team to help them improve the experience.

We are looking to build a group of business Trusted Testers based in the US who meet these requirements:

Willing to test out early stage products and features, and use the products consistently

  • Have less than 100 employees
  • Willing to provide feedback to our product team
  • Willing to sign a confidentiality agreement
  • Preferred (not required) existing GMB or AdWords/AdWords Express user, a plus!

Google has noted that if you meet these requirements or know of a business that does, you can fill out this form, or send the form directly to the business. If the business meets their requirements, they will reach out with next steps and more information.

Google Implements Direct Knowledge Panel Editing on Desktop and Mobile

Google has confirmed that they are now allowing a business to directly edit their business information via the Knowledge Panel and the Local Finder on the desktop and mobile WITHOUT visiting the Google My Business Dashboard.

Prya Chandra reported earlier today on G+ a new Knowledge Panel interface that allows direct editing of a local listing to correct errors in the local information.

However, when you are logged into Google on the desktop with an account that has the ownership or management of the listing, this edit mode allows for direct updating of your business information without needing to go the Google My Business Dashboard.  The information will flow, in essentially real time, back to the dashboard and out the listing wherever it might show.

However, a listing owner is still unable to edit things like menu or booking links that frequently go awry.

This was first reported as a future feature by Barry Scwartz at SeoRoundtable based on a comment by Gary Illyes at State of Search in mid November.

Screenshot 2016-01-11 10.42.42
When you click on suggest an edit you are presented with a direct edit screen of basic information for a business.


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If you are logged in as a manager or owner of the listing edits get approved immiediately


Screenshot 2016-01-11 10.39.53
The edits show up in real time in the Google My Business Dashboard
Editing is also allowed in the mobile browser interface. Note that the hour change appeared there immediately as well
Screenshot 2016-01-11 11.56.33
upon completion of the KP edit I received this confirmation.

This new edit capability is available in the Knowledge Panel and the Local Finder on the desktop AND mobile but is not available via Google Maps. One assumes that this same interface will make its way into Google Maps desktop and mobile in the near future.

I am curious to know if this has rolled out internationally. If you live in Canada, Europe, Australia please let me know. I assume that it has.

The real question about this change is what is the future of the Google My Business Dashboard? With its current limited functionality businesses will have even less motivation to visit it.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search