September 6, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
One of the primary reasons people use Google Places is to discover points of interest when on the go. How interesting would it be if you knew that some locations don’t appear in Places because they are mistakenly marked as out of business?
A New York Times report covers a few curious cases in which businesses that were fully operational had been marked “Closed” by Google Places for as much as weeks at a time. That’s because it required only two or more people to click the “Report a Problem” link on a Places page and select “Place is permanently closed” to have Google list the business as no longer operating. Just like that, people are duped into avoiding somewhere that may have interested them.
Why would this occur? (Other than people being jerks.) A couple of people interviewed by the Times think it’s being done by competitors. If Diner A and Diner B are within a few miles of each other, one may try to gain an unfair advantage over the other and report its rival as permanently closed. So when out-of-towners or hungry people in the area search for somewhere to eat, only Diner A comes up in results. Aside from being a shady thing to do, this also robs consumers of choice and the full advantage of using Google Places on their phones.
It has been incredibly easy to abuse Google’s valid attempt at keeping map information current. You may have even seen similar dirty tricks when people report that a business’s address is wrong so potential customers are redirected to a nearby rival.
Thankfully, Google is working on improving this problem and has already created a way for business owners to be emailed when their establishment is reported as closed. Not all owners are savvy enough to be on Google’s radar in the first place, so that safeguard may not be enough. According to the NY Times, more attempts at preventing “malicious or incorrect labeling” should be rolled out in the near future.