Despite Google’s sophisticated algorithms and high-paid software engineers, the company struggles to protect against “chronic deceit” from fake listings on Google Maps. There is a long history of this type of abuse on the site.
This is not just one million, but 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “Online advertising specialists identified by Google as "deft fraud fighters" based on a survey of these experts. That’s the conclusion of the findings from a report published Thursday.
But the industry didn’t need a Wall Street Journal article to validate the thesis. It only needed to pay more attention to others who had been telling them the same thing for years.
Do you remember the escapades of cyber security expert Bryan Seely? In 2014, he demonstrated how easily someone could use the internet's open architecture to record phone conversations and create fake listings and locations on Google Maps.
Then in 2017, Google released a whitepaper titled Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps. The authors investigate a form of blackhat search engine optimization that targeted local listing services like Google Maps.
The authors estimated that 1 in 10 fake listings belonging to real businesses where thieves have improperly claimed ownership, such as hotels and restaurants. The thieves would deceive the business into paying referral fees for interest in searches.
Google responded to the WSJ report in a blog post. "We understand the concerns of those people and businesses impacted by local business scammers and back in 2017 we announced the progress we’d made," per Google. "There was still work to be done then and there’s still work to be done now. We have an entire team dedicated to addressing these issues and taking constant action to remove profiles that violate our policies."
People posing as locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors were the most common source of abuse — roughly 2 out of 5 listings were fake. From that whitepaper, Google developed new guidelines.
Google still can’t seem to stop the proliferation of fictional business in Maps. The WSJ reports that the scams are profitable for nearly everyone, Google included, except for consumers and legitimate businesses.
A search for plumbers in New York City found 13 false addresses out of the top 20 Google search results, according to the WSJ. Only two of the 20 are located where they say and accept customers at their listed addresses.
Google told the WSJ that the company removed more than three million false business listings in 2018. Any storefront can register to serve up in Google Maps without buying an ad, but increasingly more legitimate businesses find it’s the best way to stay ahead of the fakes.