Google responds to a WSJ report that concluded there are millions of fake business listings on Maps

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After a Wall Street Journal investigation concluded that there are millions of fake business listings on Google Maps, the company has issued a response detailing the measures it takes to combat the problem.

According to estimates from online advertising experts surveyed by the WSJ, there are “roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day,” with hundreds of thousands more fake listings appearing every month. Many are placed by businesses that specialized creating fake listings for clients that want to boost their information above competitors in search results.

According to a search expert interviewed by the WSJ, a 2017 academic study paid for by Google that found only 0.5% of local searches researchers examined were fake was skewed by limited data.

In the company’s response, Google Maps product director Ethan Russell wrote that of the more than 200 million listings added to Google Maps over the years, only a “small percentage” are fake. He said that last year Google took down more than 3 million fake business profiles, including more than 90% that were removed before users could see them. Google’s systems identified 85% of the listings removed, while 250,000 were reported by users. The company also disabled 150,000 user accounts found to be abusive, a 50% increase from 2017.

Russell wrote that the company is “continually working on new and better ways to fight these scams using a variety of ever-evolving manual and automated systems,” but can’t share more details about them because otherwise scammers might find a way to get around them.

The WSJ report comes as another Google-owned service, YouTube, is under scrutiny for how it fights abuse at scale. YouTube released its first anti-abuse report last year, but problematic content, including hate speech, continues to be a major problem and the platform’s critics say it haphazardly enforces its own policies.

Along with Apple, Amazon and Facebook, Google’s parent company Alphabet is currently facing antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, and its search business is expected to go under scrutiny.

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