In response to a string of cases where fake business/organization listings have been added to Google Maps, Google says it has removed those listings and put in place new hurdles to make it more difficult for this kind of abuse to get through its system.
This latest run of problems came to light about a week ago, when some users discovered they could use Google Map Maker to create fake businesses that would be verified via a phone call. In the beginning, many of the fake listings were harmless.
More recently, the same user took advantage of Map Maker to create fake FBI and Secret Service office listings using his own phone number, and even managed to intercept calls to both agencies. Both of those listings were created in close proximity to actual offices, adding to the confusion over which listing was real.
Google has now removed the fake FBI and Secret Service listings, as well as others that have been exposed over the past week.
In addition, contacts at the company tell us that they’ve put new restrictions in place that will make it more difficult for this kind of activity to produce a “live” place listing on Google Maps.
This is hardly the first time users have found a hole in Google’s systems that allowed the creation of fake business listings in Google Maps. More than five years ago, for example, Danny Sullivan wrote about being able to “hijack” Yahoo’s listing and changing the company name to Microsoft.
In this latest case, though, the timing is particularly bad since Google just released its new Google Maps product out of beta.
The hole actually involved Map Maker, Google’s product that allows for crowd-sourced improvements to Google Maps. Hundreds of thousands of edits over the years have helped improve Maps, but it was also still open to the kind of exploits that have been detailed over the past week.
Given the competitive nature of local search, it probably won’t be too long before we find out if Google’s new restrictions succeed in preventing more of this kind of abuse … or if users find other holes they can exploit.