Google Maps is indeed a useful source of information as far as navigation is concerned. It’s also beneficial when it comes to finding the closest restaurant, electrician, or even a mechanic. However, there’s also a possibility that the listing that appears closest to you is fake. Google has reported that less than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings. Let’s see if Google has finally found a way to detect fake listings.
Detecting Fake Listings
People have been known to be scammed through fake listings, by scammers planting fake pins to create a “false sense of proximity” according to a computer science Ph.D. student Danny Huang, UC San Diego.
Google teamed up with Danny Huang and other UCSD computer scientists in a recent study that focused on understanding people abusing Google Maps.
The results showed that 40% of all fake listings included on-call contractors, plumbers, and locksmiths that scammed people.
Furthermore, a total of 13% of the listings were being used by scammers to urge people into making reservations at different restaurants and hotels.
According to Google, the company is able to detect 85% of the fake listings and prevents them from showing up in Google Maps. Also, fake listings have been reduced by 70% since 2015, making the fraud rate less than 0.5%, due to improvements in the business verification process.
One of the reasons that urge people to create fake listings is the major algorithm update that makes the searcher’s proximity become the No.1 ranking factor for local searches. This leads to numerous fake listings popping up on Google Maps to increase a company or establishment’s chances of appearing near an individual.
Most of the fake listings that were suspended by Google were from the United States and India, which made up 74% of the total listings observed in the current study.
So, is the less than 0.5% rate of fraud true? You’ll need to look at the details. Google came to such a conclusion because it only looked at suspended listings (more precisely, between June 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015).
Can Google Really Detect Fake Listings?
The study didn’t look at the numerous listings that slipped through the algorithm which means that the 0.5% fraud rate isn’t accurate.
Another thing of note is the rate of locksmiths being penalized. If you look closely at the shared study, you’ll notice that Google has stricter procedures when verifying locksmiths compared to other businesses. And thus, the statistic doesn’t mean that locksmiths are the biggest scammers on Google Maps.
As for the company being able to detect 85% of all fake listings, this is again false as it only refers to the listings that were caught by the updated algorithm and suspended. It doesn’t mean that Google has been able to catch 85% of the entire fake listings that make their way into Google Maps.
While the algorithm has improved, Google should be more open about its research instead of presenting data in a manner that could mislead certain readers.
Even if Google has been boasting about its Advanced Verification process, the numerous fake listings won’t stop unless the support team is able to tell a fake establishment from a real one.
Furthermore, fake listings of virtual offices also need to be checked. Even if such offices are flagged they pop again through Google My Business.
Another issue is businesses adding in a couple of related keywords to their brand’s name to increase the chances of showing up in search results. Again, even when reported, the said business is able to add the removed keywords again through Google My Business.
What Should Google Do?
The biggest problem linked to restaurants and hotels is scammers creating fake listings and then adding an ordering or reservation link, becoming an unwanted middleman, and charging the original establishments for orders made through them.
Furthermore, scammers also refuse to transfer ownership of such listings even when a restaurant or similar business finds out.
While Google seems to be on the right track, the company is in dire need of training their staff to better handle fake listings especially those that are reported by users.
What Should You Do?
If you happen to own a business and are worried about fake listings negatively impacting your brand, you should consider hiring a reliable company that can handle your online presence which includes detecting fake listings and putting a stop to them.