The community reporting system for Google Places, which recently came under fire due to potential abuse, is seeing a significant change: Google will now label businesses as closed only if they have first conducted a review of the reported information.
Google’s Interim Solution
In the aftermath of significant criticism of Places vulnerabilities that allowed users to inaccurately label businesses as being “permanently closed,” Google promised improvements. Eight days after the promising improvements, Google quietly introduced its solution.
Rather than simply accepting the user feedback when it comes to public labels on a business, Google has (according to an update to the original LatLong blog post from September 6) “removed the interim notification about a report having been made so that a listing will only be updated after it has been reviewed by Google and we believe the change to be accurate.” This allows Google to work as a fail-safe to abuse, although a stringent verification process for business closure is still – for the time being – conspicuously absent.
The Places Vulnerabilities
Google Places allows users to report changes or issues with a business, including instances where businesses have multiple locations, are private property, have closed permanently, or contains incorrect information. While a valuable way to bring the community on-board for vetting Places data, the system also proved to be vulnerable to abuse.
Google had no active defense against the false reports, which allowed experimental users label the Googleplex as shut down. Another high-profile fake closure was Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry, a company that was previously the victim of a spam review attack.
How hard is it to alter the publicly visible status of the business? If the experiment conducted on Tuesday by Mike Blumenthal is accurate, businesses can be labeled as closed with as little as one false report.
Google’s initial fail-safe is a good start, but it’s not likely to be the permanently solution. It’s expected that Google will make further improvements to its labeling, reporting, and verification processes. If you have questions or suggestions on these or other Google Places features, you can participate in the official Google Moderator page currently being used to discuss Places’ shortcomings.