Google is giving more trust to user reports on the address, hours, and operating name of businesses. Submitted updates will show up regardless of business verification, though business owners will receive a notice and have the option to halt the change.
The Automatic Listing Updates
According to the official announcement of the change, Google is introducing a streamlined process for updates to potentially incorrect listings. In instances where data such as the business hours, address, or name of a location are submitted, "the organic listing will automatically be updated and the business owner will be sent an email notification about the change."
Additionally, Google is working with partners to receive up-to-date information about businesses and has trained its web-crawler to look for current business data. In cases where Google's systems gets new information from a trusted source, they'll make an automatic update.
Meanwhile, business owners will get an email indicating that a change is going to be made. According to Blumenthals, the message from Google indicates that, "your listing data on our consumer properties such as Google and Google Maps" is going to be changed, but that "We use many sources to determine the accuracy of our listing data and to provide the best possible experience for business owners and consumers."
Then, after receiving a summary of the submitted changes, the business owner is given the option to "prevent any of these changes from being made on your Place page and listing" through their Google Places account.
Google states that they're pushing for "a digital representation of the real world" that doesn't rely on business owners "remembering to update their Google Places account." Instead, Google is relying on "a neighborhood local or a loyal customer" who wants to help out by providing the correct information.
Businesses sending out promotions via AdWords and AdWords Express won't see changes to their ads, but all other segments of Places will be impacted. While this feature has already seen official release, its full implementation seems to be gradual.
Is Google Making Businesses Vulnerable?
Honestly, considering the abuses of the previous system, this seems like a brash move. Even with an improved system of vetting and a window wherein business owners can negate a change, the potential for abuse both directly through Google and through manipulating "trusted external sources" is highly visible.
Businesses could still become the target of shut-down campaigns, only now the false data would be implemented automatically and the business owner would have to back-track to input the appropriate data anew.
It seems a proper solution would be to offer a "lock/unlock" feature for business owners, allowing them to declare permanent information or set aside certain fields that won't be updated automatically. Meanwhile, since any business owner who doesn't have their email address attached correctly is left in the open, it's absolutely vital that you both verify your business and ensure that your account is attached to an email address you check frequently.