Google’s Hypocrisy: Search Spam and Map Spam

Filed in Google by Matt McGee on November 4, 2008 22 Comments

Google logoWhen it comes to spam on Google.com and Google Maps, Google is talking out both sides of its mouth.

Background: Spam on Google Maps often comes in the form of hijacked listings, where a 3rd party comes in and edits someone else’s business listingbecause Google lets them. Many local search watchers have been railing against this for ages, most notably Mike Blumenthal, who just last week temporarily hijacked Microsoft’s listing to illustrate the problem, and prompted Danny Sullivan to temporarily hijack Yahoo’s listing to shine an even brighter light on what’s going on.

End of background.

Yesterday, Google finally responded. You can read the full reply on Mike’s blog, but here’s the essence of the problem:

“The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community.”

In other words, damn the torpedoes, Google is committed to this openness, this sharing, this community “wiki nature” of Google Maps. Let’s hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” together, shall we? Google’s response is, in my opinion, borderline offensive because it puts a higher priority on this non-existent “open community” ideal than it does on accuracy of information and the impact of inaccurate information on business owners and Google users.

Here’s where the hypocrisy comes in: Late last year, when defending Google’s stance against paid links, Matt Cutts used the example of someone in poor health using Google to get information about the sickness:

“…suppose you just visited your doctor and got a scary surprise: you or a member of your family have a tumor. The doctor is throwing around words like steroids, surgery, chemo, and radiosurgery. Much of what the doctor says washes over you, but you remember the word “radiosurgery” and resolve to find out more when you get home.”

Matt goes on to cite some examples of paid links related to important health terms and how those can interfere with Google’s ability to return accurate, helpful results to a person in need.

Meanwhile, Miriam Ellis wrote last night about how she recently moved, and didn’t have any contact info. for a local doctor, and had a medical emergency come up, so she used Google Maps to find doctors’ names and numbers. Now, the info she got from Google Maps was incorrect, but it wasn’t hijacked. Google’s lucky; it could’ve been. Says Miriam:

You’ve recently told Mike Blumenthal Google Maps has a wiki-nature. Can you see from my medical anecdote here that applying a wiki philosophy to contact information for medical providers is, somehow, inappropriate?

So tell us, Google … if health-related searches are a prime example of why selling links is the equivalent of spamming Google SERPS, and spam must be kept out of the SERPs at all costs because people need accurate information about medical issues, how come you don’t apply the same standard to Google Maps?

It’s time to end this love affair you have with “open community” and put the “wiki nature” of Google Maps to rest. The whole world has no business being able to edit any unclaimed business listing they want. Stop talking out both sides of your mouth: If accurate health info matters on Google.com, it matters just as much (maybe more) on Google Maps.

Comments (22)

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  1. Matt-

    Dam the torpedos was the exact phrase that came to mind when I received their response late yesterday.

    I felt it better to just post it and let the community decide that is hypocritical than have another screed from me. (Plus I was dog tired and it was bedtime).

    Great summary of the issues.

    Mike

  2. Miriam says:

    Oh-ho! What a post, Matt. Damn the torpedoes, indeed! This a powerful post, very to the point, and balm to my recent discomfiture.

    Really enjoyed this and your points are very important.
    Miriam

  3. Chad says:

    So what is the point of Google sending PINs to the address to confirm location if anyone can claim that business?

  4. Matt McGee says:

    Hey Chad — you’re confusing “claiming” with “editing.” Only the business owner can claim a business listing, and the PIN number sent to the address verifies company ownership.

    But on unclaimed listings, ANYONE can edit the listing — they can change the business name, address, phone, web site, you name it.

  5. Chad says:

    Ah, that makes much more sense (the concept of claiming vs. editing), not leaving it an open community. Thanks, Matt.

  6. That is amazing that Google responds with “we don’t really care” attitude about this loop hole.

  7. Derek says:

    “…Miriam Ellis wrote last night about how she recently moved, and didn’t have any contact info. for a local doctor, and had a medical emergency come up, so she used Google Maps to find doctors’ names and numbers…”

    Anybody who would use a google search to do this is an idiot. They could just dial 911

  8. Derek before you call people idiots you should read the article. She thought she just had a non life threatening situation.

    Mike

  9. Miriam says:

    Hello Derek,
    I’m Miriam, and I’d like to personally invite you to come read my article that Matt linked to. I think it will make more sense to you if you read about my experience, and it will certainly be more civilized to do so before making up your mind that folks are idiots.

    Miriam

  10. ILLA says:

    I have seen overwhelming Mapspam for practically every law firm in California, most notably, “Los Angeles”.

    The ones who are doing it are controlling the one, three and ten packs for practically every popular keyword. The typical violations are multiple addresses for the City of “Los Angeles”, and variations of the firm names for the same locations, as well as now, listing the employees and partners for each firm for the same locations in “Los Angeles”

    As you should know, most people looking for an attorney in Los Angeles County, type in “Los Angeles” personal injury lawyer, motorcycle accident attorney, injury lawyers, etc.

    So someone with several fake addresses downtown is not only getting all the City business, but the business for the entire County!

    There is no way to report it in the Maps Groups as comments are closed. These firms are all dominating local search. Any suggestions?

  11. Matt McGee says:

    First suggestion is to read the comment policy on this blog about using spammy keyword names. I’ve edited yours. :)

    Second, the old Maps help group is closed and has been replaced by a forum here:

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/maps?hl=en

    Start a new discussion if the old “Report Spam” thread has been shut down. Good luck.

  12. P.L. says:

    Sorry. I used that name to demonstrate who I am. I did not consider it as spammy. But I have reconciled it using my love of German tanks along with who I am, a real lawyer. I will check out the link you provided.

    But keep in mind that even what I was able to report mapspam, it simply does not get removed. Unless, of course, it was someone reporting me. THEN IT GOT COMPLETELY removed IMMEDIATELY. lol. But thanks. :-)

  13. bjinks says:

    I have 28 business listings (Self-Storage Facilities) that are active and verified by Google. Overnight an individual or bot edited all of them by changing the URL to point to their fictitious website. I’M FURIOUS ABOUT THIS AND I’VE LET GOOGLE KNOW IT! I’ve literally spent over 100 hours getting everything right with my listings to display properly and now to think that any bloke can edit anyone’s URL, business categories and map marker locations at will is a huge hole that Google needs to close, especially for active and verified listings. Any edits should first be approved by the verified business owner before publishing them.

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