(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
google places, spam


Latest Google Spam Technique: Invent Fake Street Addresses And Show Up In Google Listings

from the spam-spam-spam-spam dept

John Nagle, who famously highlighted the massive problems with Craigslist spam a few years ago, alerts us to his latest report, showing how Google's regular listings are getting filled up with Google Places spam (pdf). Apparently, Google integrated its Places offering into Google's regular search back at the end of October, and almost immediately various search engine optimizers (both the "white hats" and the "black hats") almost immediately realized that it was really easy to game the system: you just create a "business" at a fake, but real-sounding, address. Some companies are quite upfront about how to do this:
  1. Set up a listing in Google Maps at an address that does not currently exist. For example, where there is a 60 Main St., Anytown and a 64 Main St, Anytown and these represent real addresses. Set up your listing at 62 Main St.
  2. Name your business USKeyword-City, or Keyword-Pro-city or Fictitious name of person plus keyword for the personal touch.
  3. Build citations to your listing. These listings contain citations from Yahoo Local, Hotfrog, Guidespot, local.newstimelive.com.
  4. Create a blog on one of the sites for the purpose of creating a perfect citation for thousands of listings.
  5. Link build
  6. Give your new listing a sparkling review
  7. Now find an adjacent town and repeat. Again and again and again again
There are even apparently tools on the market that will help you do this. The report notes that this is apparently so effective that the search engine optimizers who usually play by the rules (the "white hat" SEOs) are even making use of it as well. Of course, this has also opened up new business opportunities for some. According to the report, a convenience store chain in New York is effectively "selling" its address to others to use to get on Google in this manner.

Apparently, the more aggressive, less ethical "black hat" SEOs are seeking to take this to a new level, with new software on the way that will make it easier to bypass various attempts by Google to control this and, at the same time, use spamming engines to write fake "reviews" for these spammed "businesses."

As the report notes, there are two key areas of weakness in the way Google has implemented this:
The two phases of spamming Google Places are the insertion of fake business locations and the creation of fake reviews. Both are embarrassingly easy using the techniques described above.

Google Places obtains business locations from web pages created by the business itself, advertising directories ("Yellow Pages") entries paid for by the business, and from "place pages", also created by the business itself. There is little if any verification against objective data sources, such as business licenses, corporation registrations, and business credit rating services such as Dun and Bradstreet. This makes it possible to create fake Google Places entries.

Recommendations are obtained from recommendation web sites. Most recommendation sites allow free account creation and have little information about their members, so the cost of creating phony identities for recommendation spam is low. Because the typical local business has a relatively small number of recommendations, only a few phony recommendations are needed to promote an individual business location.
Considering how much work has been done by SEO folks in just a few months, it will be interesting to see how Google responds. The company has always promoted its "anti-spam" efforts, but it sounds like not much forethought was put into the Places integration.

Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2010 @ 5:41am

    That's a lot of traction for a "feature" that's been out for two months. It will all come crashing down when Google pulls the plug.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SUNWARD (profile), 30 Dec 2010 @ 6:26am


    should be local.newstimelives.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 30 Dec 2010 @ 6:30am


    Local governments need money. Now they should tax each business a per address business license fee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DragonSearch, 30 Dec 2010 @ 7:29am

    Matter of Time

    I knew it would be a matter of time before hackers and black hat SEOers to take advantage of Google Maps. Google should have seen this coming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    itsfuntodobadthings, 30 Dec 2010 @ 8:16am


    latest? wow you are way behind my friend

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Earl Netwal, 30 Dec 2010 @ 2:50pm

    Verification options

    Google verifies these new Google places listing via telephone number that is listed and/or via snail mail. I'm not sure how people are getting around the phone number option as Google Calls the listed number in the posting, and must have access to ways of verifying the numbers location. The snail mail to a faulty address or to a mail drop still requires people to confirm the code on the mailing. My guess is that some will find ways to get around these verification techniques but most won't. As legitimate vendors claim and verify their own listing the temporary head start some spammers get will be dilluted when better citations and more reviews accumulate to the true local business people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Zacqary Adam Green (profile), 1 Jan 2011 @ 3:02pm

      Re: Verification options

      If they're using Google Voice numbers with area codes from the fake business' supposed location, that would be beyond hilarious.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nebelhund (profile), 31 Dec 2010 @ 2:38pm

    I found one of these recently:

    Google Nashville Harley Davidson

    The one that comes up as "B" Nashville Harley Davidson on Arcade St does not exist. It provides an out of town phone number and a website that is garbage, and probably chock full of scripts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Visible Dentist, 1 Jan 2011 @ 5:01pm

    SEO influences Google Places

    Google Places is a total mess right now; she creates profiles on the fly by scraping websites that carry local city addresses. Profiles are continually hijacked and much to the dismay of legitimate business owners, Google has also been dropping (or losing) their customers' testimonials.

    Other than the occasional Google Places forum comment, support for existing problems is nonexistent.

    The information given above by John Nagle would have been accurate a few weeks back, however position hierarchy for business websites in Google Places is now (subject to change again at anytime) largely dependent upon the site's SEO.

    The format of the SERPS also differs dependent upon your browser, your web history, your IP location, keyword searched, etc. For the most part, Google Places has been merged with the organic results.

    After this last algo change I'm referring to, many of our clients, who had excellent organic rankings with poor Google Places positions, suddenly saw their profiles moved into Google Places. The common denominator I've observed for this is the SEO factor.

    John Barremore
    Houston, TX

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Box of Meat, 3 Jan 2011 @ 9:33am

    white hat?

    if they are lying in order to fool people into clicking, then they are not "white hat"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kathy Long, 19 Jan 2011 @ 11:57pm

    Google has changed the verification process

    I just created two new Place listings the other day. Neither of them allowed me to use the phone option for verification - ONLY the address, so apparently Google is cracking down.

    I'd like to add that Google is also partly to blame for this spamming. It's frustrating that they place so much weight on proximity to center point which should have zero relevance for service businesses that come to you, and less relevance for others. Their proximity policy pushes many white-hat SEOs over to the dark side out of frustration.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mobile computer repairs, 14 May 2011 @ 4:42am

    So much of this its gonna end

    false addresses on Places is commonplace now, but I predict an end to this practice sometime soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dominic Tutty, 7 Nov 2012 @ 9:24pm

    Google would soon have nipped this is in the bud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Frisco Web Solutions, 22 Jan 2018 @ 10:07pm

    Thanks for sharing the post. But now Google has changed the verification process

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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