Google Maps overrun with millions of fake listings

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 26 Jun, 2019
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Wall St Journal report outlines scale of problem which affects both businesses and consumers.

Google Maps.

Google Maps has a problem with fake business listings. According to a report in the Wall St Journal, Google Maps has around 11m fake listings, with hundreds of thousands more being added each month.

Google Maps product director Ethan Russell issued a blog post in response to the report, outlining how Google is combatting this problem. He noted that the issue is a long-standing one with a cat and mouse game between Google and scammers who adopt ever changing tactics and techniques.

Last year, Google removed over 3 million fake business profiles, including over 90 percent removed before users could see them. 85% of the listings removed were identified by Google’s internal systems, while over 250,000 were reported by users. Over 150,000 user accounts found to be abusive were removed - a leap of 50% over  2017.

There are various ways these fakes work and they affect both businesses and customers. Genuine businesses lose visibility and consumers are vulnerable to scams. Fake listings are often for services people turn to in emergencies - contractors, repairs, medical services and so on - without a lot of time to verify.

Google clearly has an interest in maintaining user trust and so fighting this issue. At the same time, if businesses turn to paid ads to regain search visibility Google will profit.

In a follow-up article, the Wall St Journal outlined 4 ways to spot and avoid fake listings:

  • Confirm the business name
  • Google the address
  • Screen the phone number
  • Be careful with reviews

Users can report fake listings to Google here.

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