Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake—and Google Profits


#1

The FOAM Protocol is needed more than ever.

The WSJ continues a great trend of geospatial articles:

Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake—and Google Profits

Google’s ubiquitous internet platform shapes what’s real and what isn’t for more than two billion monthly users. Yet Google Maps, triggered by such Google queries is overrun with millions of false business addresses and fake names, according to advertisers, search experts and current and former Google employees.

The repairman had hijacked the name of a legitimate business on Google Maps and listed his own phone number. He returned to Ms. Carter’s home again and again, hounding her for payment on a repair so shoddy it had to be redone.

> Three years later, Google still can’t seem to stop the proliferation of fictional business listings and aggressive con artists on its search engine. The scams are profitable for nearly everyone involved, Google included. Consumers and legitimate businesses end up the losers.

> Yet despite its powerful algorithms and first-rate software engineers, the company struggles to protect against chronic deceit on Google Maps.

Often, Google Maps yields mirages, visible in local business searches of U.S. cities, including Mountain View, Calif., Google’s hometown. Of a dozen addresses for personal-injury attorneys on Google Maps during a recent search, only one office was real. A Viennese patisserie was among the businesses at addresses purported to house lawyers. The fakes vanished after inquiries to Google from The Wall Street Journal.

Hundreds of thousands of false listings sprout on Google Maps each month, according to expert

> Google Maps director Ethan Russell said in a written statement, “There is no single source of truth for all businesses in all categories.”

> Google’s failure to eliminate phony listings puts legitimate businesses at the risk of threats and blackmail by competitors or con artists.

‘A nightmare’

Google said it has long battled phantom business listings.

For the past decade, the company has hosted around a dozen volunteers each fall who patrol its pages for forgeries. This digital version of a Neighborhood Watch group, which includes advertising specialists trained by Google, stays at a motel near the corporate campus, dining on egg whites, from cage-free chickens, and other free offerings at company cafeterias.

Mr. Blumenthal, the New York search consultant, has joined several of the annual visits, which are billed as educational trips. He learned, he said, that Google “has obviously chosen not to solve the problem.” He skipped last year’s junket.

> Google is in “an arms race with an extremely motivated group of scammers who are constantly on the lookout to beat the defenses we build,” Mr. Russell, the Google Maps director, said in his statement.

> One prolific listings merchant is Mark Luckenbaugh. From a basement smelling of cigarette smoke in Hanover, Pa., he runs a business that can place as many as 3,800 fake Google Maps listings a day.


#2

Excellent point. This is an example where applications (maps, email) that have near zero cost to use create confusion. SPAM only exists because the marginal cost of email is low enough that a one in 1000, or a million reply makes it worth while.

FOAM is in a perfect position to satisfy the Users of localization and mapping requests by providing a non-zero cost infrastructure that is built on trust and supported by an active community that has ‘Skin in the Game’.


#3

a good one from four years ago:

Although proof of work is today known primarily for its function in blockchain consensus algorithms, its original function was in fact something quite different. The first major use of proof of work was Adam Back’s Hashcash, a protocol that tries to fight email spam by making spam emails more expensive to generate.

So here is a proof-of-stake alternative. When you send an email, you do not need to compute an expensive computational puzzle; instead, send a transaction to the blockchain which creates a contract containing some amount of money as a security deposit. As part of the email, send a private key to the recipient, which the recipient can submit into the contract to destroy the deposit (or donate it to a standardized charity) if they want to . If the deposit is not destroyed for some number of days, it is refunded to the sender. Note that there would be no gain to the recipient in destroying the deposit - the only motivation to do so would be pure spite. As a result, we get an asymmetry: the average cost for normal people to send an email would be small, because the recipient would only click “Report Spam” in the rare case that they are malicious, but the average cost for spammers would be quite high indeed - and specialized hardware asymmetries would not help spammers one bit.

One could see deposits going as high as a dollar in size, and one can even adopt a graduated scheme: senders can send whatever deposits they want above some minimum, but the level of notification that the recipient sees would depend on the exact amount. If it’s $0.1, then it’s just an email in their mailbox. If it’s $1, then a few phone notifications. If it’s $500, then their phone would ring at maximum volume overriding all other settings - but the sender best be prepared to pay the price if the recipient deems the sender’s intrusion unjustified.