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No. 1332
January 17th, 2012

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Is Verizon a Data Supplier to Google Places?

Obviously, I’ve claimed my consulting business on most of the major search engines and data aggregators, and done my best to make sure that my NAP information (Name, Address, and Phone number, for those of you new to Local Search) is consistent everywhere.   Sure there are a few minor variations of my official DBA (David Mihm Web Design / Local SEO) due to various aggregators’ limitations on length of business title.

But, I recently came across a crazy bug on my Google Place Page!  I couldn’t believe it.  My phone number had all of a sudden changed from 503-560-2755 to 971-400-6360.

At first, I was straight-up freaked out.  Some nefarious third-party blackhat (*&^$@%$ spammer had hijacked MY listing!  The cheek!  I was pretty much furious.  I called the number, fully expecting to chew them out in realtime before going all Search Commander on them and permanently ruining their online reputation.

But even more surprising than seeing the number in the first place…when I called it, I got my own voicemail.  Very strange.  I logged into my Places Dashboard to see if I could figure anything out.  Clearly, it was a bug in Places–the number didn’t match what I myself had entered.  But where in the heck was it coming from?

For the last three days I’ve been racking my brain.  Did I set up a call-tracking number with Google Places just to see what its effect would be?  Was Places somehow conflating a Google Voice number with my actual number because I’d verified my actual number to receive passwords in the event of emergency?  Was I testing out an Edit in Google Mapmaker?  No to all of the above.  My usual number (503-560-2755) was still listed in all those places.  I vaguely recognized the rogue number (971-400-6360) but simply couldn’t remember where I recognized it from.

The answer finally came to me last night.

First, a little background.  Some of you may remember my iPhone was stolen in Birmingham, England several months ago. (Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything, Ramsey.)  So, one of my first orders of business in June when I got back to the States was to visit my local Verizon store (n.b. their customer service at the Downtown Portland branch is excellent) and get a replacement.  I hadn’t purchased insurance, so by default I was going to be stuck buying a new phone at full retail price ($699).  Then the sales rep got creative.  She said I could get a second “dummy” line, get a new phone for $199 on that line, forward it to my main one, and only pay an extra $10/month. Sold.

And what was the number of my “dummy” line?  Why, 971-400-6360, of course.  Entered into the Verizon database on June 2, 2011.

And that, my friends, is literally the only place in the world–digital or real–that that number is associated with my name.

Mystery solved. (I think.)

What do you think–have any of you guys and gals ever seen Verizon client data flow up into the ecosystem?  Is there anything else that might explain how that number got onto my Place Page?

And if Verizon is indeed a data supplier to Google, is my experience due primarily to a bug in the clustering algorithm? Or is Verizon such a powerful supplier that it would overwrite my business-owner-verified data?

  • Is your phone set up as a business account line? Looks like Verizon is offering Go0gle Apps as a part of their Verizon Business Solutions offering.

    If not, the find is still interesting.

  • I have been campaigning for a long time on the Help Forum for User Verified data to be the prime source of OUR Places content.

    Still, even if our opinion does not count why does google over write OUR data when only one instance of a field out there is different?

    Surely as they are scraping every piece of data out there for you, then surely your carefully syndicated NAP’s majority view should be accepted?

    google are poor at data analysis, the programmers lack common sense and do they do any testing?

    Where is the banging your head against a brick wall smiley?

  • Would not be surprised to find out that Google has access to Verizon’s data, or that they were placing a premium on it’s value. I was actually thinking about this just the other night when I saw the latest commercial for Verizon’s new set of smartphones with Ice Cream Sandwich that are optimized to work seamlessly with Google+ ( It appears both companies have tied their success to each other, especially in the arenas of cell phones and social media.

    @Andrew, I can see why Google would override User Verified Data in some instances. Lest we forget all of the spamers and n’erdogooders out there that would love to get Google places listings (and first page rankings) for their fictitious businesses.

    It is frustrating to see Google continue to go out of their way to ignore User Verified data, as it appears they have here. When a cluster has been established and it is obvious a user is taking the time and effort to set forth a unified signal to the local algo, and the places listing is CLAIMED, then why wouldn’t Google defer to the data the customer provided about their own business? Especially when there is a substantial amount of data to draw from?

  • Which of the top directories can google trust that the data is properly sourced, if any?

    Any others?

    Unless we have better verification via Passports, pictures, utility bills and maybe for larger users personal verification visits, then the value of any data on the web is suspect. With GPS enabled web phones perhaps google can tie our PIN entry to us sitting at our address on our ISP’s broadband.

    Perhaps we need bank style verification dongles issued. Of course some academic over here had himself chipped.

    The problem with googles re-use of crowd sourcing is the poor quality of self-selected moderators.

  • It makes perfect sense that Google is buying or otherwise obtaining data from Verizon… they have too many deals together (Android, The Net Neutrality Deal, the apps deal noted above… ) for Google to not have negotiated that piece so critical to their well being.

    I am curious though if you go back through your emails and look to see if you ever got the “Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated” email?

  • With Google’s push to gather cell phone data at time of Google registration and deals like this I wouldn’t wonder if 1)the deal doesn’t go both ways
    2)Google has the biggest database of cell phone numbers
    3)They are using the data for ad targeting

  • Mike,
    I just went back and looked. NO, I did not receive that email that my listing would be updated.

    Methinks there is a MAJOR data partnership in place. Especially now that Verizon is taking out huge ad campaigns (shown during NFL playoff games) showing how Google+ is natively embedded in Droid phones.

  • And one more point… it clearly demonstrates that businesses to not own or even rent their listing. google thinks of it as a search result and if they, for whatever reason have what they perceive to be a better answer they will give it… ownership and accuracy be damned.

  • Wow! What a story…I also know that if you have a Sprint business account, you can get a premium White pages listing. It makes total sense that Google is getting friendly with the cell phone companies. Think about it….Isn’t Google Wallet a big part of the agenda this year? By striking these deals, they increase the odds of that app being an integral part of both the cell phone service providers as well as the manufacturers. I’ve also noticed a huge increase in trying to acquire mobile numbers from Google acct holders as a means to “recover your account”. I am assuming you went and edited your account and it resolved the problem?

  • That is honestly an amazing discovery. I think I’ve had something similar happen to some of my clients (random numbers showing up from what seems “out of nowhere”). I’m forwarding this article to everyone on my team and if we discover any other cases that this is true for, I’ll be sure to let you know!

  • Dave Oremland

    David: Excellent recap. The circumstances are disturbing and the issue might not relate to just mobile phones. Businesses distribute their customer data. Its out there in a lot of ways. Its packaged, sold, utilized, etc. all without our fundamental knowledge or more importantly our comprehensive acknowledgement with a true understanding of all the implications.

    Have you done any advanced searches to see if there are web documents with that phone number? Is the web covering this information at all…or is it a result of a direct transfer of info from Verizon to Google? That would be interesting to know.

    Secondly the source of information is such that it shouldn’t “overrule” an overwhelming volume of data on your correct phone number…at least not in any rational form for considering a logical algo…that is used to present your NAP information to the world. Above all, in any rational world, an algo driven piece of data that conflicts with your own controlled data should be a red flag to the algo…that its flat out wrong.

    Evidently that is not the way the Google Places algo works. Its from the Planet Zork…and that is why so many humans have problems with it.

  • Dave Oremland

    yes. I tried it wrapping parentheses around the phone number. tried a couple of ways. tried it on google and bing. Couldn’t find a web document. Did find a lot of those reverse phone number sources that reference a lot of numbers.

    I guess I’m curious as to how that info from verizon got its way into the google ecosystem of data. If a document isn’t on the web then it was directly fed into google’s data base and/or sold to some data aggregator that feeds google.

    In either case it brings up a variety of issues:

    A). Vendors distribute our information to the outside commercial world in ways we can’t even comprehend. Its done without our understanding or under a sales agreement document that is simply not clear about the issues of privacy..and implications of the usage of the data.

    B). The google places algo is subject to so many issues and errors. This is a prime example. They have not yet seemed to have established checks against weird or “outlier information” from working its way into the results.

    C). Why in the world does information from a cell phone seller get into the google places world of data, in the first place? With an algo with so many holes and problems….why use data that is going to have endless examples of duplicate names. Its only going to create more issues.

    D). And finally….Google….with so many endless issues and problems in the world of Places…why don’t you spend a wee bit of money and populate the place with more customer service??? 😀 so that issues like this…that your algo caused could be corrected by someone in your employment..rather than making others sweat and work and stress over the problems you create!!!!!

  • Hi,

    What seems strange is that a low visibility mobile phone no should over write a well established one, a land line?.

    There seem to be two issues to ponder:
    – The strength of a Places entry verification
    – The balance between a users view of their own data and some spam threshold.

    Places verification.

    Google now tend to verify by a post card to the business address, manually where we do not receive mail as well now, so we have a point of reference on the map.

    As google are cozying up to phone vendors can land line providers not record the locations GPS/Mobile mast location of the phone line/broadband termination. When we buy a mobile phone contract at least the provider could record the billing location. Also from data I presume they scrape they could provide google with our ‘favourite’ locations and obviously one should match our Places entry address.

    When we post card verify our Places entry then google know where we are from our ISP records via phone line/broadband connection and I am sure a little app, certainly on Android, can securely access our web enabled phone and verify via its location that we are really sitting in the business address set in the Places entry and if it is the mobiles registered address. A pretty strong method. Surely there must be a ‘verification quality’ ranking and that should score pretty high.

    In the UK when you take out a Yellow Pages contract a rep visits you so that would be another high scoring input to our verification ranking.

    Spam threshold.

    There are a few things which google can change to up this threshold.

    At present google seem to also take categories and locations out of the business name as well as their ‘normalised’ data fields in the places entry.

    These field types are highlighted in the business name in search results, they are obviously used in awarding the ant-competitive 1,2 and 3 pack results. Categories are often ‘miss-scraped’ from web directory data where the business name content is obviously miss-parsed.

    A business name should just be a unique place holder for a Places entry and not used for any thing else.

    The quality of moderation needs to be improved for community edits. The verification quality should be available to the moderator so it can be used in assessing the change.

    Also when we find that we have received a google email or had a duplicate listing scraped from wrong or old data we should have the option to feed back the rank of that change from our point of view. That could then be used to adjust the spam threshold.

    Google’s development is poor in all respects and some culture change is needed if our experience of Places is to ever improve. Vanessa at least made a post recently about Reviews accepting its full of bugs or features.

    Cheers. Andrew.

  • David,

    I might be able to shed some light on this. I spent a few years working for a company that bought the complete business database from Acxiom and InfoUSA for an online directory.

    When a new line is opened or any major change happens such as address changes this flags the record as a Move, ADD or Change and an Identifier is places in this field that indicates what type of change occurred.

    All records that have this field populated then gets sold to the data aggregators such as Acxiom, InfoUSA, D&B, Experian…etc.

    I looked through my old field maps on Acxiom’s database sent to me by Acxiom and here is the field that might explain this the best:
    RBOC Unique Flag
    U = That the record came from the “Public, but not yet Published” source file.

    RBOC stands for Regional Bell Operating Company. Verizon is certainly an RBOC as is AT&T, Bell South…etc. As long as your information at the RBOC level is not flagged as “unlisted” then the RBOC’s sell this data to the aggregators. However, I wasn’t aware they were doing this with cell phone lines. It doesn’t surprise me though.

    Given the fact that this is “Fresh” data it is sold at a premium. Acxiom and InfoUSA adds these records to a “Hot List” which sells anywhere from $150.00 – 250.00 per thousand records.

    Online Directories fight for this fresh data to do phone solicitations, direct mail and website updates for better user response rate and user experience. I know we bought this data monthly as a supplemental database to add to the main database.

    It’s my opinion that the trust factor is more that this data is “Fresher” than the existing data that was in your Google Places account and through Googles automation process your data was overwritten. I suspect they purchase this supplemental database monthly or biweekly as well and probably from multiple sources as there is about 14-20% difference in unique records among the different data aggregators.

    I can’t explain how this was associated with your business unless your business phone was a Verizon cell phone number as well. Given the fact that it was a second “dummy” line….I suspect that was the case.

    Hope this helps.


  • Not to beat a dead horse, but I was reading the new Privacy Policies by Google this morning and saw this:

    “Device information

    We may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.”

    Looks like we all are Data Providers to Google =) or is that =[


  • Wow!! @Chris Gregory, I hadnt had a chance yet to read through the new privacy policy from Google. It getting spooky how much Google and other data providers have on each individual

  • David:

    I had a similar situation with one of my customers. He has a claimed Google places listing with a phone number that originally was a SPRINT cellphone line and at the time he opened his preschool, he used it s his main phone number to his business.
    So all the NAP information across the web uses that number. For the last 2 or 3 weeks he called me to complain that all the calls were going to his cellphone and not to his business line (original SPRINT cellphone line). I edited the information in Google Places but until now, nothing has been fixed. His account has been under review for more than a month with no changes.
    It sounds to me that Google is picking up information from cellphone providers, in our case is AT&T, and replacing the original number in Places.
    I am know wondering if more people are going through the same…..

  • Hi David,

    Did your friend have an email from google saying they were going to change his Places listing phone no? If so and he had gone and made a null edit to his Places entry and pressed submit promptly his Places entry would have over ridden that change.

    What edit did you make to his Places entry?

    Google do not feedback on negative reviews so you have to take some action.

    If Google has taken some new upstream data you need to check where the source is and whether it has been propagated into other Web Directory data.


  • I had something similar happen but after a few weeks Google support fixed it. Killed my business for a few days. I wish Google had 24 hour tech support.

  • I had a similar thing happen with a client of mine 3 weeks ago.

    For some reason Google deleted the main phone number and replaced it with their old disconnected fax line.

    Instead of doing 3 days of research, I updated the listing and double checked the Google maps also and updated.

    These actions fixed the problem, but it’s not cool when your client calls you up and asks why his customers are complaining that the number on his listing is incorrect…

  • Ed

    I have been using Google Voice numbers for my clients for about 2 years, but now their original phone numbers are showing more and more. Should I abandon the use of Google Voice for their original phone number to save their NAP? Now Google incorporates other phone numbers on their Google + Local listings, instead of replacing.