Who’s Hi-Jacking my Google Places?…. again…

Ok, seriously

I know I’m a little behind on ranting on this, but we finally ran into an issue with Google’s “feature” launched back in October:

http://googlesmb.blogspot.com/2011/10/faster-updates-to-local-business.html

The Google Places listing has become a pretty significant listing on the internet for like (and I’m just spit-balling here) 99.9999% of businesses out there. Given that this listing shows up at the top of just about any search for the name of a business, I can understand why Google would want the best info in them. But why does Google get to decide what “the best” is. If the business owner has VERIFIED the account, why can’t they control what info is on the page?

Managing the online reputation for over 200 hotels is difficult enough with all the lousy spam sites out there trying to syphon off bookings (and jack up the rates on guests)… but having to fight Google at the same time is just too much to deal with.

Recently we had a hotel contact us about their phone number being incorrect. Apparently, a guest called the number on the Google Places listing and thought they were speaking with a brand representative – turns out it was some random 3rd party. So the guest overpaid and didn’t get any of the points they were expecting through their brand loyalty program. We followed Google’s convoluted process to have the information fixed. A postcard was sent to the hotel weeks later (a business with a hundred different employees who could have easily misplaced or tossed out the card) and the GM eventually called us with the magic code so we could correct the info.

My first thought was how could the 3rd party change this info, if the listing had been verified and we had to get a postcard mailed to the property to correct it? But less than two months after RE-verifying the listing, the number has been changed again. Not only was the account verified, but we JUST CHANGED THE NUMBER BACK!!!

The change log in the Places listing shows the edits and “who” (magical Google robot-man, with no real profile) made the change, but not who requested the change, or why the particular items were edited. We also received no alert in our “owner-verified” email about the change.

Initially, I lashed out at the 3rd party site, assuming they had somehow made the change, and while they may have benefited from the change, they may or may not have initiated it. Basically Google’s Bots decided they had better info than what was listed.

Given the enormity of the web itself and specifically the directories out there, incorrect info is rampant. Trying to find every listing for a business and ensure that all citations include the same info is a tough task. But the bigger issue here is why would Google decide that some piece of misinformation listed on crappylocaldirectory.net is better than the info already entered in the listing? The URL on the Places page had directed people to the brand website. If you are going to pull info, wouldn’t you look here first?

If you want to know about Ford’s newest car, is Ford.com a better bet for valid info than mywebsiteaboutcarsthatimadeupthismorning.co.hk?

If the info wasn’t scraped from some 3rd-world, half-baked directory site, then it was taken from a “Report a problem” submission by the soon-to-be-served-papers-by-my-lawyer 3rd Party site. So anyone can make a comment and Google says “yup, we believe you over the owner”… makes complete sense to me. Ugh

Not sure that I have much of a specific purpose here, other than to vent about the issue. I just don’t see how to stay ahead of things like this, when the info that’s being used is being taken from any random site on the web or the word of a 3rd party out to steal from you. It’s Google’s page, I get that. But why have “verified listings” if you override what the owner says?

As I see it, a Google Bot that decides it knows better than the owner is the first step towards Skynet’s awakening. And I really don’t have time to deal with that particular apocalypse right now…

PS. If I find out for sure that the 3rd party was involved in changing the info and that it wasn’t a random update by a Google Bot, I will make it my life’s work to punish them… but this still doesn’t release Google as a guilty party. I can’t say it enough… THE LISTING WAS VERIFIED BY THE OWNER – no one gets to make a change without an OK from THAT party. At least that’s how it should be.

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