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Google Places Spammed To Show Closed Businesses

Unscrupulous businesses are using Google Places to display their rival shops as closed on Places listings

Google is being exploited again, this time by malicious perpetrators that are using Google Places to report that rival businesses have closed, when in fact they are still open.

Google Places is the company’s local search service, which was revamped in April 2010 to offer business information, such as address, phone numbers, reviews, photos and other kernels of information for searchers.

One of the features of Places has in its “report a problem” section enables users to click a link that lets Google knows when a business may have closed, warning users not to waste their time driving to defunct establishments.

Crowdsourcing Abuse

This activity, a form of “crowdsourcing,” lets Google users help the search engine, which said it can’t be on the grounds in every city or town, serve its customers with relevant information. Unfortunately, the way this crowdsourcing option is set up lends itself too easily to abuse.

When enough users click the problem option “this place is permanently closed,” Places lists the business as “reportedly closed.” Pending review, the shop is labelled “permanently closed.”

Google said that two weeks ago it noted that abuse of “place closed” spam labels – was occurring. As noted by The New York Times, reporting a business closed on Google Places “has become an increasingly common tactic among unscrupulous competitors.”

Apparently, rivals in various business niches are displaying nasty competitive streaks by clicking that places have closed. Google, which declined to say how many instances of abuse it has detected, said in a corporate blog post it has been tweaking the system to halt such incorrect labelling and will roll out the changes soon.

Google Apology

“We know that accurate listings on Google Maps are an important tool for many business owners. We take reports of spam and abuse very seriously and do our best to ensure the accuracy of a listing before updating it,” Google Places senior product manager Ethan Russell wrote 6 September. “That being said, we apologise to both business owners and users for any frustration this recent issue of spam labelling has caused, and we’re committed to making sure that users and potential customers continue to have the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.”

This is hardly the first issue Google Places has had this year that required some adjustment on the search engine’s part. Google Places once aggregated big chunks of information from local search rivals Yelp, Urbanspoon, CitySearch, TripAdvisor and more sources before these smaller concerns complained.

Other Exploits

Google, which is weathering an antitrust investigation from the Federal Trade Commission over whether it has treated rivals like Yelp unfairly, now relies more heavily on its own Hotpot recommendation engine.

This also isn’t the first time Google search has been gamed.

Google last December altered its search algorithm to prohibit website proprietors from boosting search rankings by mistreating customers. Earlier this year, the search giant went so far as to punish J.C. Penney and others for boosting their rankings on Google.com.

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