Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Google

How Google Map Hackers Can Destroy a Business 132

Posted by timothy
from the you-aren't-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from Wired about the one big problem that comes with crowdsourced data: enough eyeballs may make all bugs shallow, but may not fare as well against malice and greed: Maps are dotted with thousands of spam business listings for nonexistent locksmiths and plumbers. Legitimate businesses sometimes see their listings hijacked by competitors or cloned into a duplicate with a different phone number or website. In January, someone bulk-modified the Google Maps presence of thousands of hotels around the country, changing the website URLs to a commercial third-party booking site ... Small businesses are the usual targets. ....These attacks happen because Google Maps is, at its heart, a massive crowdsourcing project, a shared conception of the world that skilled practitioners can bend and reshape in small ways using tools like Google's Mapmaker or Google Places for Business. ... In February, an SEO consultant-turned-whistleblower named Bryan Seely demonstrated the risk dramatically when he set up doppelganger Google Maps listings for the offices of the FBI and Secret Service..
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Google Map Hackers Can Destroy a Business

Comments Filter:
  • GOOOOOOGLE!

  • by Ichijo (607641) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @02:15PM (#47426207) Homepage Journal

    Gmail is very effective at filtering spam out of e-mail. Maybe Google should use the same technology to filter spam business listings out of Google Maps.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Spam-filtering is google's core capability... google broke into internet search with the page rank algorithm whose essential purpose is to combat "search engine optimization."
      • Try searching for *anything* on Google search. Over half of the results are commercial, even if you're not looking for a commercial thing. Either they failed, or they are in it for the advertisements after all. If google had balls, they'd blacklist any company that pops up with a commercial result (that they didn't get paid for) for non commercial searches. I suppose it would backlash so hard they don't want to put in the effort, or they actually failed at it.
    • by noldrin (635339) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @03:03PM (#47426579)
      I'm not sure that they want to. The way they seem to be verifying authenticity of listings is through Google+, the current situation encourages businesses to sign up and properly set up their Google+ pages, if they fixed it, then there would be far less need for the companies to use Google+
    • no, the listings give GM that 'filled in' look that is so desirable...

    • It says in the article (iirc, read it a few days ago) that this was a problem a few years ago but now is mostly licked. So I'm not sure why it's coming up today.

  • by richlv (778496) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @02:21PM (#47426239)

    again and again people fail to understand that they are the ones giving this power to a single company.
    who controls the map ?
    or, why the world needs openstreetmap :)
    http://blog.emacsen.net/blog/2014/01/04/why-the-world-needs-openstreetmap/ [emacsen.net]

    of course, no dataset is immune from vandalism/poisoning... but an open one is both available for auditing/monitoring, and also improvable by many more, not just business owners.

    • It would be nice if Google had some competetition here. I went to openstreetmap.org and entered my address but it said nothing found. That's too bad.

      • by richlv (778496)

        agreed - it would be really great if you could add it :)
        or, if you don't feel that you could figure out how to do it, you can also add a note for somebody else to potentially review : http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Notes [openstreetmap.org]

      • Maybe openstreetmap has data from the future and knows you'll be homeless one day.

      • Openstreetmap has my address but thinks I am in a different province, but then again so does accuweather (I wonder who uses who as the source).

        Google maps on the other hand have my driveway marked as a road and the actual road not existing (well the satelite photos are at least 8 years old), also the have labeled the village with the name of a hotel (which closed and moved away years ago) instead of the real and completely different name, I guess the hotel having "village" in its name was the problem there.

    • by Albanach (527650) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @02:58PM (#47426543) Homepage

      Fifteen years ago, you opened the yellow pages for the same information. Did you say then, who controls this book? Did you worry about all the power being in the hands of a single phone company?

      Likely not, and for two reasons. If the phone company abused it, they'd lose the trust and goodwill that makes the very product valuable, and if it was no longer accurate someone else would come alone and make an accurate version.

      Why is that not the same for Google? If their maps become unreliable, won't people move to Bing? If not, why not?

      • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @03:20PM (#47426663)
        What you might not have known (but should have) is all those listings in the yellow pages were paid advertisements. The yellow page market used to be extremely competitive with numerous companies fighting for a business' 2" x 2" to full page ad. We're talking about free (as in beer) marketing and the ole adage "you get what you pay for" applies here. It's word of mouth in the internet age which is both good and bad. If just one person can get your customers to believe something unflattering about your business it can ruin you. That's why another adage "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" is just as true. The quicker you can catch the nefarious mischief the quicker you can curtail any damage.
        • What you might not have known (but should have) is all those listings in the yellow pages were paid advertisements. The yellow page market used to be extremely competitive with numerous companies fighting for a business' 2" x 2" to full page ad.

          The grandparent was talking about the One Book To Rule Them All - Ma Bell's, everyone with a phone line in a given area got one on their doorstep for free and it was the most widely used one. If you had a business line from Ma Bell, you got a one line entry (busine

          • by ArhcAngel (247594)

            The grandparent was talking about the One Book To Rule Them All - Ma Bell's

            "Ma Bell" hasn't been a thing since 1982 [wikipedia.org] when AT&T volunteered to divest itself of its regional local telcos. AT&T retained ownership of YellowPages and they remained the dominant business directory but competition in the last decade has been fierce. It's so vast it even has its own association. [localsearc...iation.org] And while you are correct about businesses getting a line for "free" it still required them to be an AT&T customer so it was a value ad for service not free.

            The point of TFA is that a business owner shouldn't have to spend time and money policing multiple sites in order to protect himself from trolls and malicious mischief. Especially because so many of them manipulate the information presented so that bad reviews predominate - which they then charge the business to clear up.

            That's not what I took away from TFA and anyon

            • "Ma Bell" hasn't been a thing since 1982 when AT&T volunteered to divest itself of its regional local telcos. AT&T retained ownership of YellowPages and they remained the dominant business directory but competition in the last decade has been fierce.

              *sigh* You know damn well what "Ma Bell" is shorthand for. So does everyone who read what I wrote who has an IQ above room temperature. The simple fact is, you were wrong. Not all listings were paid advertisement no matter how much you squirm and blo

              • by ArhcAngel (247594)
                You forgot that I must be racist because I disagreed with you...Oh well so much for civilized discussion. Enjoy
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Yellow pages was not only paid advertisements, but far too expensive for any but the most well-heeled of pranksters. That 2x2 ad in a major market cost around $1200/month, last I asked. A one-line bolded listing was $200/mo.

          Of course there were free yellow-pages clone directories, but you get what you pay for in print, too. Mainly, it was a waste of air to get the listing, because apparently no one troubles to consult these third party directories in the first place.

      • by ttsai (135075)

        Fifteen years ago, you opened the yellow pages for the same information. Did you say then, who controls this book? Did you worry about all the power being in the hands of a single phone company?

        Likely not, and for two reasons. If the phone company abused it, they'd lose the trust and goodwill that makes the very product valuable, and if it was no longer accurate someone else would come alone and make an accurate version.

        Why is that not the same for Google? If their maps become unreliable, won't people move to Bing? If not, why not?

        The problem with "hacking" is the openness and crowd sourcing aspect of Google Maps. Wikipedia has the same problem, and the answer was to decrease the openness for editing. Maybe Google will have to adopt a similar strategic decrease in openness for certain parts of Maps.

        Will people move to an alternative if Google Maps becomes unreliable? Well, maybe but probably not. If I'm misdirected to a competitor but I'm still able to complete my transaction, then I probably don't care or maybe I don't even real

        • by jemmyw (624065)

          Will people move to an alternative if Google Maps becomes unreliable?

          For recommendations and reviews I've always found google unreliable, so I've been using Yelp. It probably suffers the same problems, but it seems a bit more reliable.

      • People won't move to Bing, because Bing is a stupid name.

        See also: Ned Ryerson.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          At present, Bing's map function is ***MUCH*** faster than Google's, tho it uses older and often-foggier sat imagery. Google search has become so largely-useless that anyone who can produce better results (and return to respecting "exact search" including punctuation) has an opportunity here.

          I think we actually had fewer crap results back when they weren't trying to eliminate spam results at all. Now the crap is evidently custom-tailored to take advantage of Google.

    • Tell them to make a decent javascript api, OpenLayers is painful to work with.

    • by BenFenner (981342)
      I just started using Open Street Maps today and I'm in love! I can move off from MapQuest now.
  • If a sufficiently large population of interested people can be induced to correct the map it shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. Wikipedia suffers and reverts many thousands of bits of misinformation daily. Not to say it's perfect but it's good enough.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by preaction (1526109)

      Wikipedia's core tenet is "Everyone can edit". I've known I could edit it since the day I started using it. I just learned today, just now, that I can edit Google Maps, and I've been using it for years. Consequently, I have more trust in Google Maps (despite being burned a few times) than I do in wikipedia, even though wikipedia's citation policy lets me see how they got their information.

    • Good enough for you is an unfortunate place to stop.

    • by AaronLS (1804210)

      I think the challenge is identifying bad edits. Once you identify a bad edit, you can bulk undo everything from that source. With google maps, a phone number change might not be apparently a bad edit until you call it, and even then if it was setup with the sole purpose of misrepresenting a business, then it will be difficult to verify. With wikipedia, identifying a bad edit is usually simple as "hey this link goes to this third party place it shouldn't" or it's clear bias or vandalism.

      • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:01PM (#47427567)

        With google maps, a phone number change might not be apparently a bad edit until you call it, and even then if it was setup with the sole purpose of misrepresenting a business, then it will be difficult to verify.

        Even worse, if the information is a website to reserve a room at a hotel, the only people who will know that the link that takes you to Booking.com or some other reseller is bogus is the hotel itself. Did I just get sent to booking.com when I clicked on "reserve a room" because this hotel wants me to go through booking.com, or did some nefarious bad guy point me to his website so he can scam a commission?

    • by Shoten (260439)

      If a sufficiently large population of interested people can be induced to correct the map it shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. Wikipedia suffers and reverts many thousands of bits of misinformation daily. Not to say it's perfect but it's good enough.

      Issue #1: Wikipedia is actually in crisis at the moment, over this very issue. So...hm. We'll see if they actually do survive it.

      Issue #2: With Google Maps, there's the larger population that has a very small incentive to edit everything, and although they have a greater incentive to offset information that's false...those incidences are like needles in a haystack, and it's very very hard to find out which ones they are. There will be enormous duplication of effort as well, since the best-patronized bus

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 10, 2014 @02:25PM (#47426279)

    At this point, I would happily pay Google to enforce my listing information. I have spent many man-weeks worth of time over the last 5 years trying to keep my listings from being hijacked.

    Problem reports to Google take months to be answered, if ever. If I make changes to my listings to keep them "fresh" it takes dozens of weeks for those changes to be approved. It seems like ANY differing data that Google scrapes from the web is prioritized over my painstakingly maintained listings.

    Oh, and about 95% of my customers use Google Maps instead of the phone book. This is a huge deal to me.

    It's one of their most visible, most used products, and Google appears to give not half-a-shit about the businesses out there that they screw over by prioritizing inaccurate information over the real deal. It's weird.

    • by Macrat (638047)

      Oh, and about 95% of my customers use Google Maps instead of the phone book.

      What's a "phone book"?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That annoying wedge of soggy paper that shows up on your doorstep once a year.

      • by Virtucon (127420)

        It's a big fat book full of useless entries with names and places you'll never deal with. They still occasionally drop them off at my front door where I obligingly use the pages for starting camp fires and to level my wonky kitchen table.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by su5so10 (2542686)

      Are you using "Google My Business" (http://www.google.com/business/)? It should stop your listings from being hijacked.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        OP here. I've been using it since pretty much day one.

        All that it appears to take for Google to mess the listings up is for someone to put up a webpage with wrong information on it - they promote that crap over my 'verified' information about every 3 months.

    • by asmkm22 (1902712)
      I'm just glad my business is fairly small and advertises through word of mouth from current clients, rather than depending on new foot traffic or something. I can't imagine dealing with the headache you're talking about after all the other small business headaches are dealt with.
    • OpenStreetMap has a series of mechanisms to combat malicious editors. Mostly they get found out quickly by local mappers and problem edits are reverted. Sometimes it takes a while, but it happens. Also, with lots of editors, sometimes the problems just get fixed as data is changed.

      Some power users monitor the map closely, and OSM does have a (very small) number of moderators who can block malicious users.

      OSM is also working on actively improving communication about edits, so problem users can be identified

    • Make a google account. Claim the business. go through the verification process.

      https://support.google.com/pla... [google.com]

      And then after that they only take updates from you unless someone else can succeed at the verification process which should be a bit hard without pilfering your mail.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm the OP. I've claimed all of my accounts, years ago. They still put other random crap from the web up as authoritative over the listings that I've meticulously maintained.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      One of my family members is a music teacher and someone kept switching her business address on Google Maps so you had kids and families showing up at random places instead of their music lesson.

      So I totally understand your pain and she would/would've gladly paid Google to lock the details in.

  • Something similar happened to me recently. Google Maps led me to a business that was no longer there (if it ever was). A week or so later, I asked it about a Wells Fargo branch. It sent me to one about a mile away. Later on, I realized there was one just a block down the street from where I made the inquiry. Doh!

    • by magarity (164372)

      "A week or so later, I asked it about a Wells Fargo branch. It sent me to one about a mile away"

      This is why you look on Wells Fargo's website for their location addresses and then put the closest one's street address into google's map for navigation.

  • Tragedy of the commons
    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      Not quite.. this is not everyone polluting. I think the meme you are looking for is "First world problems..."
  • by SpzToid (869795) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @02:32PM (#47426341)

    Yesterday, when I read this article, I checked out a location which I'm not willing to share here. On it was exactly this type of 'theft' of location, and street-view manipulation as explained in this article. In fact I had noticed the hack before in this location, but not realized it as such.

    Yesterday, when I looked and saw the display via the new GMAPs interface, I was amazed at the *quality* of the hack. A dirty, mouse-infested hotel down the street 'occupied' a very desirable corner location and cafe. Using street-view, it appeared as if the cafe was the hotel's bar. Plus they had purchased an ad to book the hotel when you clicked the PIN, and the result looked IMHO better than a professional web-page for such a purpose (because of the new GMAPs interface and presentation). The final result was a stuning, quality, hack I thought, and everyone I showed it to agreed. But I give more credit to dumb luck plus the new GMAPs interface then cleverness by the thieving hotel owner.

    I used the 'suggest an edit' tool to report the manipulation to Google, and also input new, accurate information for the cafe on the corner, and other neighborhood features.

    Weird thing is, today when I look via various machines inthe office, I see various displays. Some showing the old GMAPs interface, some new. Some with the dirty hotel competely removed from the map, and the cafe added. Like DNS, it seems it takes a while for GMAPs to get updated, and probably the more people that offer input the better.

  • They give some examples of businesses that claim to be having problems because of incorrect data Google Maps. But then one of those examples just has abysmal reviews [yelp.com] in general (which, to their credit, they note in the article).

    • by ShaunC (203807)

      But then one of those examples just has abysmal reviews [yelp.com]

      Last I heard, a big part of Yelp's business model was to cold-call your business offering to hide those abysmal reviews for a small extortion^Wservice fee. I guess this company didn't play ball. It doesn't surprise me that a restaurant which has been hijacked on Google Maps is also suffering from a bunch of negative reviews on Yelp, someone is clearly targeting the business.

  • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @03:01PM (#47426567)

    This was discussed already and the general conclusion was the restaurant had very poor service. Poor service will kill a reputation faster than anything else. I remember going to a restaurant that was short staffed. They were trying to accommodate people, and were nice about it. But after waiting 30 minutes for bread, we left. You can always expect bad reviews based on food, you can't please everyone.

    Plus I don't think Google information can kill a place in just a few weeks. People have phones and call ahead to confirm hours, seating availability, location and even directions. I know I always call. It's lazy people who just browse Google and believe everything they see without confirmation.

    Website: http://www.serbiancrown.com/ [serbiancrown.com]

    Yelp Reviews: http://www.yelp.com/biz/serbian-crown-restaurant-great-falls [yelp.com]

    Trip Advisor reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g57783-d497915-Reviews-The_Serbian_Crown_Restaurant-Great_Falls_Fairfax_County_Virginia.html [tripadvisor.com]

    Google Maps entry: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Serbian+Crown+Restaurant/@38.97349,-77.295876,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x89b6360d0a8fbba5:0x79a2bbe49b2f3a1e [google.com]

    Most of the reviews complain about very poor service. Waiters not checking up on the tables, one guest said they had to wander around to find a water pitcher and refill it themselves. People have waited 30+ minutes to receive the menu and bread. One guest claimed they were there for over 3 hours in total waiting for various courses. Guests would arrive only to find there was not host/hostess at the podium to seat them. Guests complained about rude staff both in person and over the phone. And these aren't recent complaints, they go back to 2010.

    • by tomhath (637240)

      This was discussed already and the general conclusion was the restaurant had very poor service

      Or a competitor/ex-business partner/ex-girlfriend/etc who occasionally posts bad reviews. It only takes one.

    • by laura20 (21566)

      40 year old restaurants don't tank because of a Google listing; they tank because they've gone to shit, and from the reviews, that's exactly what happened. If you look back at the TripAdvisor history, they were doing Groupon and the like, which is in the case of an established restaurant is a sign of a restaurant that was already on the downswing. And a lot of those reviews were the same thing: poor quality food and poor service. If you've been around for 40 years, you should have a steady clientele that w

    • Plus I don't think Google information can kill a place in just a few weeks.

      It wasn't "just a few weeks", it was nearly a year per TFA.

      This was discussed already and the general conclusion was the restaurant had very poor service.

      Discussed by who? Where? And what was the authority of the group who held the discussion to reach such a decision? Or are you seriously asking me to decide based on your links one of which is the one that's being blamed in the first place? Not to mention, if you check th

  • Obviously they should have been buying AdWords ads.
  • by rogoshen1 (2922505) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @03:30PM (#47426755)

    So if enough people listed Brin or Page's home address as something icky.. like a support group for pedo's, or a west coast branch of the Westboro Baptist Church, Google would do nothing to correct the inaccurate information? :)

    A few 'User's choice" campaigns have found first hand the flaw in this type of contest in the 4chan/anon era, maybe one day Google Maps will be abused in similar fashion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 10, 2014 @03:49PM (#47426915)

    I worked at an also-ran Yelp competitor, and seeing locksmiths singled out as one of the perpetrators here is utterly unsurprising. They accounted for probably 98% of the spamming and shady activity on our site. We got to the point that we totally barred businesses from being created that contained a fuzzy match on lock (they tried 1ocksmith, l0c|smith, etc) unless they paid a vetting fee. That made them switch to spamming other random business's reviews with ads for themselves, falsely marking competitors as closed or as having invalid phone #s, giving their competitors legit-sounding negative reviews, etc. They clearly did it all by hand, which actually made it in some ways harder to combat than a more predictable script-based attack.

    Don't know what makes locksmithing such an epicenter of shadiness, but I hope Google and the other players in the business listing space figure out a way to stamp out this behavior for good.

    • Maybe a lot of locksmiths didn't start out as locksmiths.

    • You're giving a stranger the (new) keys to your house/car/other thing worth locking up, and you wonder why he might not be entirely legit?

      I have a nice bridge that would fit in your investment portfolio, and the number of a widowed Nigerian grandmother with an offer you can't pass up.
      --
      I want to be like Elon Musk if I grow up.

  • Google could hire a couple of hundred more people, yes live human beings, perhaps even in the country they are tasked to curate and then, well they could review proposed changes, you know curate? Google is a de facto authority on a variety of types of information. Google makes a lot of money off of that standing. THEY NEED TO STEP UP HERE. They risk losing that standing.
  • Every time I see that term, I cringe. I've never heard anything 100% good from any of those guys, there's always some trickery or grey-area ethics involved.

  • Business search is sadly broken in many ways. Whenever I google for a service that I actually need, there are dozens upon dozens of sites at the top of the results. No doubt they're all SEO'd there. When you follow the links, what do you get? A boiler-plate script along the lines of $foo is an experienced contractor in $bar who serves the $locality area. In fact, he does nothing of the sort if he even exists.

    The surveillatizing industry does a fantastic job of tracking us and shoving shit-ads at us for

    • My favorite, from Yelp, was a search for bike shops in my area had a paid advertisement for a wedding shop.

      "I love my bike, but I'm not going to marry it..."

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      "buy plutonium and plutonium products on ebay!"
  • See my 2010 paper "'Places' spam - the new front in the spam wars." [sitetruth.com] As I wrote back then, "The two phases of spamming Google Places are the insertion of fake business locations and the creation of fake reviews. Both are embarrassingly easy." That hasn't changed.

    Google doesn't fix this 4-year-old problem because Google makes money from bad search results. If search results take you directly to the business selling whatever it is you want, Google makes no money. If you're detoured through some Demand Media

  • Well, when your business model is to use donated, individual efforts to build a database —a database that you then use to make money via advertising with no contributor compensation. . .

    Well, don't be surprised when some "hired gun" pretends to be one of us altruistic citizens contributing to your database. And they make stuff up.

    SEO guys. Google Map spammers. The list goes on forever.

    These "crowd-sourced" businesses, making money off of the altruism of anonymous individuals, have it coming

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie

Working...