When Google Maps Destroys Businesses

Here’s a thought-provoking piece from Kevin Poulsen… [1] given the degree to which people have gotten used to thinking of Google and its Maps as a “free extension to their mind,” what happens when things go wrong?

People lose their jobs, businesses close, that’s what.

Business competitors and the like have figured out they can tamper with the listings of businesses that don’t actively police their listing. We saw this back when a man showed he could pretend to be the FBI and US Secret Service, and then record their phone calls.

But there have been a slew of much lower-profile, and much more damaging cases. The reason is simple… to quote from the article:

“Beneath its slick interface and crystal clear GPS-enabled vision of the world, Google Maps roils with local rivalries, score-settling, and deception.


These attacks happen because Google Maps is, at its heart, a massive crowdsourcing project, a shared conception of the world that skilled practitioners can bend and reshape in small ways using tools like Google’s Mapmaker or Google Places for Business.”

This ought not to be a surprise to anyone who understands Wikipedia. The twist here is that the Google Maps problem only affects businesses who choose NOT to participate. In essence, Google’s ended up structuring things so that it penalizes those businesses which “stay offline” while their more ruthless competitors don’t.

Unfortunately Google (as any monopoly) has something of a reputation for being subtly abusive. When the EU recently decided that people had a “right to be forgotten” and could require the search engine to take down results listing that time they got caught having sex on the train, Google structured their response to cause as much media protest, push-back, and Streisand effect as possible. [2]

It’s very interesting to see how crowdsourcing is not all it’s cracked up to be. Rather than corruption from one source (“the Encyclopedia Britannica is biased”) now you get… corruption from everyone!







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