Study estimates millions of business listings on Google Maps are fake

Posted on June 24, 2019

 

According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, Google Maps is now littered with business listings and contact numbers that are not genuine, with many rerouting to competing companies.

Thousands upon thousands of new, fake listings appear on Google Maps each month and the Wall Street Journal believes that the service could have as many as 11 million fake business listings on the site at present.

Back in 2017, Google itself self-funded an academic study into this subject and concluded that only 0.5% if local searches were not genuine listings. However, the Wall Street Journal’s investigation says otherwise. The Journal searched for business listings of plumbers based in New York City and it found that more than half (13) of the top 20 business results were false listings. Furthermore, it found that only two were genuine businesses that adhered to the guidelines set out by Google. These guidelines stipulate that all pushpin listings must detail locations that are open to customers.

The Journal’s research suggests that companies not based in the locations suggested by their listings are likely to include repairers, car towing companies and contractors. Google internally refers to these businesses as ‘duress verticals’ as they are the types of businesses people would turn to when they have an emergency and wouldn’t spend much time looking into the business’ credibility. The research was diluted by Google’s inclusion of hotels and restaurants, which are nearly always at the location detailed in the listing.

In order for a business listing to be verified, Google sends out a numerical code to these companies – either through an email, a phone call or by mailing a postcard – to show that they are genuine. However, it is thought that this system is fairly easy for scammers to get around by providing fake phone numbers and addresses.

This loophole in the system can damage genuine businesses and their potential customers, while the scammers, and even Google, seem to benefit. In the time since the Journal’s investigation, Google has removed the fake listings, with a spokesperson for the online giant stating that the company has since added new defences for business categories classed as high-risk.

Google has also announced that it will be giving businesses more options to customise their business listings through the My Business feature. Though this, companies can offer first-time visitors a discount on products and services, set a cover photo, and claim a shorter URL.

Furthermore, in a blog post, Google has stated that it will be working on new ways for people to report any suspicious business listings they find.

Alan Littler

Account Executive at Engage Web
Drawing from a broad pool of experience that ranges from university studies in English Language to his work as a medical receptionist in a busy GP practice, Alan fits right at home as Engage Web’s Account Executive.

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