Gaming Google usually involves giving yourself a boost. Sometimes, however, it is about hurting your rivals.
On Sept. 5, The New York Times reported abuse involving Google Places, in which unsavory spammers use it to close rival businesses on Google Maps.
Google Places, which lists businesses that populate Google Maps, allows Google's community of users to flag businesses that have closed.
Most of the time, this crowd-sourcing labeling has improved the quality and accuracy of Google Maps for the benefit of all Maps users as many business owners who close up shop often don't bother to let Google know.
However, in recent months, spammers have abused this Google Places function to label rival businesses closed. Given the popularity of Google Maps and the number of people who use it to locate businesses, a false closed flagging can have noticeable consequences.
We're not far from Interstate 70, and I have no doubt that a lot of people running up and down that highway just skipped us, Jason Rule, whose coffee shop was falsely labeled permanently closed on Google Maps, told The Times.
For weeks, our bookings for September have been far lower than normal and we were wondering why, another permanently closed victim told NYTimes.
Google, in a blog post, mentioned that when users flag a place closed, the label merely moves to Reported to be closed. Not true?
Only when the closed claim is reviewed and approved does the label change to This place is permanently closed. Not true? Google, however, does not reveal its review method.
Moreover, the victims interviewed by NYTimes had their businesses labeled as this place is permanently closed, not just Reported to be closed.
We do our best to ensure the accuracy of a listing before updating it. That being said, we apologize to both business owners and users for any frustration, stated Google in blog post.
The Google Places closed fraud isn't the only way spammers have tried to hurt their competitors. For Google ads, click fraud was a big issue.
In click fraud, spammers click on rivals' Google Ads, thus incurring advertising costs for the rivals. However, because the clicks are not from real interested customers, the rivals do not get any real leads or sales from their Google advertisements.
Google lists its method for combating click fraud on this page.