The New York Times’ large spotlight is on Google again, this time showing how easy it is for local business owners to become victims of abuse from spammers fraudulently reporting a business as closed. Google promises a solution is in the works.
Malicious & Fraudulent Closings on Google Places
By allowing the community to update Places listings, Google also opened the door to unscrupulous spammers and abuse. Anybody (e.g., a competitor, angry customers, or disgruntled employee) can report your business as closed, and you might not know about it for hours, days, or even longer – which can mean lost business as searchers tend to believe what they find on Google.
Because Google doesn’t have a verification process for businesses that are “reportedly closed,” if enough people falsely report that a business is permanently closed by using the “Report a problem” link, Google believes them and, after a review, changes the status to “permanently closed.” Google would neither discuss its review process nor reveal how many businesses have been erroneously reported as closed.
Thus far, Google’s only attempt at remedying the situation is to inform a business owner when a business is flagged as “permanently closed” via email. In a blog post , Google wrote that they are “working on improvements to the system to prevent any malicious or incorrect labeling. These improvements will be implemented in the coming days.”
Also, for those businesses flagged as closed, Google gives the option to select "Not true?"
“In the last four days, I’ve hit that ‘not true’ button every six to eight hours,” said Daniel Navejas of RBI Divorce Lawyers of El Paso. “It’s getting old.”
Mountain View: Reported Closed
Much of the credit for getting Google moving on this issue goes to Mike Blumenthal, who, with the help of a friend last month, was able to report Google’s Mountain View headquarters as closed. Yes, it took only two people to change Google's status to “reported to be closed.”
“The company really ought to give a heads-up when a business is tagged ‘reportedly closed,’” because those words alone are often enough to put off customers, Blumenthals told the Times. “Google doesn’t understand how much fear and discomfort businesses have about this. One company gets to decide if you’re open or closed in the online world.”
Blumenthal offered the only workable remedy in an August post:
“… keep an eye on your listing and as soon as the 'Reported to be closed' flag appears report via the 'Not True?' link while logged in as the owner of the listing that it is in fact open. Then immediately head over to MapMaker and approve your edit and the flag will instantly disappear. The problem is that a motivated spammer, using multiple IPs and sock puppets can keep you hopping and it isn’t clear that Google will automatically put an end to the tomfoolery.”
The Times also noted that Yahoo Local and Bing Local don’t suffer from the same attacks, likely because they have much less traffic than Google.