Google Map Spam – Spotlight #300

Good Monday morning. Welcome to July and our 300th newsletter.  Our eleventh anniversary was last month, and we’re grateful to all of you who read, comment, post to social media, and forward to  your friends.

The US Women’s National Team (USWNT) takes on England tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the World Cup semi-finals. The winner of that match plays Friday against the winner of Netherlands-Sweden.

1. News to Know Now

  • Google My Business continues enhancing its product. The service aimed at small businesses now allows multiple photos in a carousel mode, uploads customized videos to YouTube and offers Google POP material encouraging reviews. Badging is also coming soon to top review recipients in each local area.

  • Facial recognition is cool, although biometrics create many questions regarding technology. Here is a new one: the Pentagon now has a prototype of a device to identify people via unique cardiac signatures. The device works 650 feet away and through clothing. (MIT Technology Review)

2. Google Map Spam & Search Issues

Google Maps is crowded with fake listings of businesses that don’t exist or don’t exist where they say they do, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal (paywall). While finding that a plumber isn’t where you thought the company might be doesn’t seem like a big deal, the same isn’t true of medical facilities. The Journal describes an incident in which a user drove her spouse to an urgent care facility ten miles away only to discover that the facility didn’t exist.

The Journal has published multiple articles about map spam and wrote that Google Maps “is overrun with millions of false business addresses and fake names, according to advertisers, search experts, and current and former Google employees.”

Google responds that the rate is 0.5% in a 2017 study it commissioned. And since Google holds a lion’s share of the search market, that can easily be millions of listings. Google says it took down more than 3 million listings last year and that 90% were removed before they went live.

Fake business profiles are an acute problem in the medical world. Calling them ghost networksStat News found that researchers called 360 psychiatrists on Blue Cross Blue Shield’s in network lists in Houston, Chicago, and Boston. They found bad numbers, providers who didn’t take that insurance or didn’t take new patients. In all, 74% of numbers in that study were unhelpful as were 83% in another.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have their own 2017 study (PDF) that checked on more than 5,000 providers in multiple specialties. They found nearly 10% rates of incorrect phone numbers and addresses and an overall rate of 45% inaccurate data.

News also broke in restaurant industry press last week that food delivery service GrubHub has registered more than 23,000 domain names that correlate to existing restaurants. The domain purchases were made as late as late month. New Food Economy has published the entire list. (Google Doc – view only spreadsheet)

The company claims that it is registering microsites for its restaurant customers “consistent with their contracts” but the company charges an additional commission to the restaurant for every order that is placed through what the industry calls a “shadow website”.

Our Take: Inserting fake addresses and tracking phone numbers to create map spam is easy. And there are legitimate reasons to create tracking telephone numbers with the company’s permission to measure advertising efforts. We do it all the time as do almost every ad agency and digital platform. The trick is getting the customer’s knowledge and involvement as we do.

As for the increasing amount of bad information published online, consider a phrase I learned working at a data company one billion years ago:  “data authenticates data”. When independent sources report data, the likelihood of its accuracy increases. That’s what Google recommends regarding its map issues too.

“Not everything online is accurate. That certainly applies to digital maps,” said Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. The same is true today.

3.  A Florida City Pays Ransom (Part Three)

Add Key Biscayne to the list of cities hit with a virus after a city employee clicked an email attachment and unleashed malware into the network reports Ars Technica.

We told you last week about Riviera Beach, Florida and before that about Baltimore  The malware is code that’s been in the wild forever, and can create multiple stages of infection.

Lake City, Florida paid $460,000 to the hackers, which was offset by the fact that their cyber insurance had a deductible of only $10,000.

Don’t open unexpected attachments even if you know the sender.  A simple note you email directly to the sender—not as a reply—will help keep problems at bay. And don’t count on your corporate security software to identify ransomware or stop its spread. 

4. In the Spotlight

  • Google Nest is now the brand name and single site covering all of Google’s home products. That includes their thermostats, frames, hubs, and apps. Why you should care: it’s an easy privacy barrier to hurdle–your Google account is now firmly attached to its home environment products. Meanwhile, Google and Amazon just started a price war on these types of products in advance of Amazon Prime Days (now two days) in mid-July.

  • An Accenture contractor detailed to a Facebook content moderation team in Austin, Texas has been fired for what he claims is a retaliatory reason after protesting the company’s work environment. Local newspaper The Statesmen has details.

  • A young man victimized young women in a New Hampshire town with cyberstalking and release of intimate photos. Local and federal law enforcement chased him for years before nailing him. His skills were more similar to a pretext caller’s rather than any computer coding skill, and that means anyone can do this. Read Stephanie Clifford’s riveting article in Wired.

5. Protip: Screening Your Smart TV for Viruses

Samsung made big news a couple of weeks ago when the company’s Twitter account advised consumers to scan their smart TVs for a virus. And then ::poof:: the message was deleted.

We’re hoping that Samsung has finally realized that deleting a security related tweet may be worse than simply correcting it.  Kids, the Internet remembers everything. 

Security experts say that you shouldn’t have any reason to scan your smart TV for viruses as a matter of course, but if you want to spend any upcoming time off doing so, we found the best way to do it using Samsung’s own videos showing how.

Check for viruses, or assume it’s all okay. We pick B.

6. Insurance Still Among the Most Expensive Digital Ads

Man, do we remember our insurance advertising campaigns for different clients. If there is advertising related PTSD, George has it after those projects As this nifty industry report from SEMRush shows, insurance is the most expensive of the niche categories. Single clicks of auto insurance run up to $66.74 each in their study. 


Because they make a lot of money, know that they lock consumers in for years, and are cutthroat. Imagine this. You write your ad campaign, pick your keywords, write ads and so on. Fifteen clicks later, you’ve spent a thousand dollars. The probability of learning anything useful from fifteen clicks?  Not quite zero but approaching it.

Look at the whole study here because it’s a delicious mix of infographic and text.

(Need to see detail for some reason? Press reply and let George know what you’re looking for)

7.  Coffee Break

We’ve told you about delivery robots before, especially at George Mason University, the first school to offer food delivery via robots. Amazon has been quietly testing delivery of products in a Seattle suburb. First they built a scale model of the town because of course they did. CNet caught up with the Amazon exec running the Scout robot delivery program at a recent robotics show. 

Every sidewalk is like a snowflake, he said. Read more here.

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