Google removed 3 million fake business profiles from Google Maps in 2018, the company announced last week. About 250,000 of the fake business profiles removed were reported by the users, while 85% of the fake profiles were removed by Google’s internal systems. According to a TechCrunch report, Google’s blog post was in response to the Wall Street Journal’s report that said that approximately 11 million fake business profiles are listed on Google Maps. 

The WSJ report cited experts who said that a majority of listings for contractors, electricians, towing and car repair services, movers and lawyers were not located in places shown by Google Maps. A quick search on Google Maps by WSJ revealed that 13 out of the top 20 listed plumbers in New York City were fake listings, that is, businesses weren’t located where their Google Maps listing said.

Fake business listing problem on Google Maps

WSJ reported that Google Maps, despite the company’s efforts to the contrary, cannot seem to stop the proliferation of fake and fictional listings on Google Maps. “Business scammers can take advantage of local listings in order to make a profit by charging business owners for services that are actually free, deceive the customers by posing as real businesses, and impersonate real businesses to secure leads,” Google said in a statement.

In its 2017 report, Google had claimed that it had detected and disabled 85% of fake listings before they even appeared Maps. The 2019 blog post revealed that it removed 150,000 user accounts which were found to be abusive, making a 50% leap from 2017.

At at time when Google claims that it adds 200 million places to Google Maps every month globally, and connects people to businesses more than nine billion times, including more than one billion phone calls and three billion requests for directions, it is important for the company to safeguard its Maps offering. WSJ reported that despite initially being a low-margin business, Google Maps in recent months has packed more ads onto its search queries and is central to Alphabet Inc.’s efforts to bolster its digital-adveritsing operations.

Google’s business listing rules

According to the company’s guidelines, the following businesses aren’t eligible for listing on Maps:

  • Rental or for-sale properties such as vacation homes, model homes, or vacant apartment; however, sales or leasing offices will be eligible for verification
  • Ongoing services, classes or meetings which are held at certain locations but are not owned by the organisation

How can users report false businesses?

Google has created tools to allow its users to report suspicious business profiles:

  • Google users can flag individual business profiles for removal. These reports will be used to investigate the content and suspend the account if found in violation of the business listing policies. It will further investigate associated accounts to check for broader abuse.
  • Users can also report multiple business profiles at once using the business redressal form.
  • According to Google business removal policies, users can report a business which:
    • has been permanently closed
    • has moved to a new location
    • no longer exists or never existed
    • is a private place or home
    • is spam, fake or contains offensive content
    • is a duplicate or copy of another place in Google Map.