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MIHMORANDUM
No. 447
July 9th, 2009


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A Real-Life Experience with Locksmith Mapspam

A very interesting discussion broke out on Twitter last Friday as a result of this comment by my friend Lisa Kinnard (@LisaKinnard), who works for a performance-based ad network in Kansas City:

“Ok locksmith man, my cats r makin a ruckus locked up in the bathroom. Good thing this isn’t a time sensitive issue. Tick, tock, tick, tock..”

Yes, that’s right–lovely young women actually do need locksmiths from time to time, as Andrew Shotland joked in April.

Immediately intrigued, I responded with a flippant remark about the “locksmith on every corner” problem that Mike Blumenthal has highlighted so frequently over the last several months, thinking that Lisa surely would have found a better solution.

I became even more intrigued after a tweet from Anaheim, CA florist Cathy Rulloda about the lack of citations for ANY of “Rain or Shine” Locksmiths’ 20 Kansas City locations.  As I was doing more investigating, I asked Lisa if she would be willing to share how she went about finding her chosen locksmith (emphasis below is mine).


I started by doing a search on google.com using my iphone. The query was “Locksmiths 64111

I just randomly picked one and touched the phone number on the screen of my iphone to call. A guy answered and I told him I wanted my locks changed, gave him my address, and he said he’d be here in 25 – 45 minutes. That was at 9:17 AM.

In the meantime, I googled “Rain or Shine Locksmith” from my desktop computer, but couldn’t seem to find a relevant result, so I then googled the phone number that I’d originally called, which was (816) 278-9580.  I clicked on the “Independence Locks & Locksmiths” because Independence, MO is somewhat near KC, and was taken to this page.

Because there were so many results, I used the ‘find’ function in firefox and typed in the phone number. That showed me that it was, apparently, located on Roanoke Pkwy, which is .9 miles away from me.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I later went back and looked at the address on google maps satellite view, and, sure enough, the only buildings on that stretch of Roanoke are apartment buildings (see first photo). There are no businesses.

(In addition, if you click the sixth link down on the results for the phone number search, you are taken to an error page which states: “Sorry, we couldn’t find robandeekansascity.com”. Robandeekansascity.com is an expired domain relating to finding schools and colleges in KC. eh?)

At 11:05 am, I got two phone calls, one right after the other, from (908) 316-1351, but I didn’t answer, because I’d decided by that point that I didn’t want to do business with them anyway. I didn’t even get up to see if anyone was at my door, because I was on the phone dealing with another issue, and I just didn’t care, frankly. 🙂 I’m not sure how accurate that “wherecall.com” site is, but it makes it appear as though that phone number is a landline in NJ. The man left a garbled message about “this is the locksmith calling about changing your locks, please call me back @…”


Anyway, as I mentioned, Cathy Rulloda did some research of her own, and directed me to this excellent post about the print Yellowpages as a source of mapspam in the florist industry.  It would not surprise me if the PYP were the culprit in this case, too, as a quick search on YellowPages.com revealed a number of listings near Kansas City.  Other primary sources  like Superpages.com and even infoUSA showed no results.

Mike recently highlighted efforts by the attorney general of Lisa’s home state, Missouri, to bring down locksmiths falsely advertising in the Yellow Pages but clearly the fruits of his labor have not yet been borne out.

Lisa’s experience just highlights SO many problems that continue to plague Google Maps:

  • vulnerability to blatant spamming
  • bad data from “trusted” providers
  • reliance on proximity to centroid (or in this case GPS location on iPhone) as a primary ranking factor
  • the foolishness of tying service-category businesses like locksmiths to a physical address

One wonders why Google doesn’t, temporarily at least, refrain from showing 10-packs for locksmith-related phrases (or other problem service categories like carpet cleaning and payday loans) until they’ve got the Maps algorithm fine-tuned.

Sadly, it’s clear that despite their recent efforts to tighten down on locksmiths, they’ve got a long way to go in combating malicious mapspamming.  But before we all go bashing the Maps team too hard, pay attention to two factors at play here:

  • Lisa, a savvy online marketer, used Google Maps in a way similar to how the general public will use it within three or four years–clicking/calling Local businesses based on an iPhone search.  She trusts Google Maps as any member of the general public is right to do, but without advanced knowledge of the Locksmith mapspam problem, it wasn’t easy for her to sort the spammers from the legitimate businesses.
  • It took 30 minutes to an hour’s worth of research on Cathy’s and my part just to figure out the culprit in this case & where they were able to get into the system.  Clearly manual research and investigation is not a scalable solution across thousands of instances of mapspam.

Now, the one thing Google has in its favor is (likely) hundreds of these reports from the forums to aggregate and pick up on certain patterns as to where the vulnerabilities lie…but it’s still not a task I would envy.

Have a great weekend, everyone.