In our last Google Plus Hangout on Friday, August 17, 2012, we discussed the ever growing problem of Google Places merging professional business listings of businesses located at different geographical locations, and the many strange responses you get from the Places Team when you try and get them fixed.
Imagine you are a doctor or a lawyer, and Google went ahead and created a listing for you from third party NAP sources like yellowpages.com. Now imagine you went ahead and claimed that listing(s) in your Google Places Dashboard. Now imagine your again just a doctor, and unbeknownst to you, Google Places decided you were really someone else and changed, or “merged” the data to that of another doctor. Now let’s say your heart patient client calls that number of the other doctor, that displays on your doctor info. Let’s say the other doctor has the same name, and also happens to have a patient with the same name as the other doctor, who practices some other type of medicine. Imagine what would happen if the wrong meds got prescribed. Imagine the same for a lawyer. Let’s say your client calls your adversary on another case, or you lose a prospective client, because your potential, or actual client looks you up by name on Google and gets the data of another professional on your official, verified, Places Page. Now imagine that this is not imaginary, and welcome your self to our world, the world of attorney search.
Examples of a Google Places Data Merge
Merging takes place for many reasons. It is defined here, as Google taking info from other businesses, and mixing the data up with yours. In this way, your address for your Santa Monica location, for example, will display on another attorney’s listing, say In Woodland Hills. So for example, your url might display on lawyer A’s Places listing, and A’s phone number for Woodland Hills might display on lawyer B’s listing for Santa Monica.
They give many reasons for merging data. None of them convince us that it is appropriate or reasonable, to merge business data of licensed professionals. In fact, Google actually will display your competitors listing info in your Places Dashboard, and appears to assume you are the same person.
Some Likely Reasons for Merging Data
The most likely reason we came up with for law firms merging of data, is that Places treats many businesses with “law firm” listed in the business info, as the same Place, regardless of their NAP data. Others cite the mere fact you have a law office in a building that also sells virtual services is enough, regardless of your NAP data, especially if you are on the same floor.
Here are some examples of complaints by law firms to Google Places about merging of data.
4. https://productforums.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!topic/business/h0cVIInFsGo%5B1-25%5D <<<< This lawyer had his account suspended after he reported the merges. This leads us to suspect this is a virus to punish suspected spammers.
The Many Scary Results of Reporting the Merge
When one Circle of Legal Trust Member sent a report to Google Places with links to the official California State Bar info of attorney A and attorney B, the response from the Team was that Google Places thinks the (wrong data) data it provided is (are you sitting down?) “more accurate” than the information on the official California State Bar page for both attorneys, as well as the info provided by the lawyers themselves. Of course, the Team invites you to “submit more” info!
One Circle of Trust member reports that after complaining for over a year about the merge, Places went ahead and scrutinized his account, and determined he had multiple listings for the same location, and told him to remove all but one location from his Places account. In this case, one of the Team members apparently believed that the attorney (practitioner) listing is the same as the business (law firm) listing, as they both are derivatives of the lead attorney’s name.
Example would be:
Practitioner Listing: “Larry Acme, Esq.” (Esq. is short for “esquire”, which means “lawyer”).
Business Listing: “Acme Law Firm Professional Corporation”. (Note the use of last name “Acme”)
So in our example above, the law corporation was apparently, de-facto banned from displaying more than one location in the one account. (Google “Maps” still displays the data, and it is still wrong.)
The official response was that there was more than one listing business per location. But clearly that is wrong.
The Places Quality Guidelines Specifically Allow One For the Business and One for the Professional:
Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the hospital or clinic at large. (Click here for full list.)
It is clear that there is one Places listing for the attorney, “Larry Acme, esq.” as well as another listing for the business, or in this case, the law corporation. (“Acme Law Firm Professional Corporation”)
Could There Be Other Far More Nefarious Reasons to Merge Data or Punish Those Who Report It?
Some lawyers are speculating that Google maliciously merges the data, and will not fix it, in order to “punish” suspected spammers, or to be able to claim the person was a spammer, rather than accept responsibility for a bad algo that forces a business owner to see his or her Places listings down for months, or even years. This certainly could increase PPC revenues considerably. Interestingly enough, there are no holes in the PPC algo that would merge professional business data.
We invited members of the Circle of Legal Trust to come up with other methods to convince Google Places to stop altering official data of licensed professionals, and you can view the discussion on the Video Hangout, supra.
Class Action/Private Attorney General Action
One member suggested that all law firms who have had their data merged are a member of the class. Another member pointed out that although they did agree to the terms of service when claiming their listings, once Google suspends/punishes them, and still refuses to fix the data, this certainly could be actionable in an action for injunctive relief.
Certainly, it appears that refusal to fix, or merged for nefarious reasons listings, allegations, would be actionable in California under Business and Professions Code Sec. 17200. After all, if Google is providing the bad data and NOT a third party, there is probably no immunity section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Complaints to FTC for Identity Theft
Identity theft is defined as: “stealing someone’s identity where one person pretends to be someone else by assuming that other person’s identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person’s name.” Although Google is probably not directly benefiting from stealing and replacing your identity, if it is alleged that they are doing this for the sole reason of increasing PPC revenues, there may be a claim here. Some of the elements are actually present, such as trying to access benefits, if they are using this as a ruse to increase PPC. The FTC can probably help in other ways however, so it would not hurt to ask them for help if G simply keeps giving you the run around for years on end. Contact the FTC here.
Shareholders Derivative Lawsuit
Here is one that may have some teeth. Google prides itself as being an accurate provider of the best data, and not being “evil”. Reasonable inferences can be drawn that stock values will plummet once the feds investigate this. They may already be losing value due to consumer and professional confidence in the product. So, it would not hurt to buy some stock, so at least you can try and save the company from itself?
Petition Google. We opted for a petition. We are looking for a cool plugin to allow our members to do electronic signatures to send to Google. We are hoping that we can just convince him there are better ways, such as trusting the professional’s data over Google’s.
Does anyone have any ideas to convince Google Places to finally stop merging professional data? Sound off here.
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