Beware Mashup Spam

In an interesting, perhaps inevitable, twist on maps mashups it looks like some companies have started using mass uploads to Google Maps to generate business. Using new variations on classic spammer techniques they get their companies to show up more often in Google's results. How? In cases cited on SearchEnginewatch and by Mike Blumenthal they're using non-existent PO boxes with 800 numbers in towns they don't operate from or by using fake street addresses. Sometimes there are hundreds of these bogus listings in a single metropolitan area.

Just take a look at the example below, where "Rent a Geek, Inc" has multiple listings in the Chicago area. At first blush this seems fine until you notice that they're always located at "100 Main Street" in each town.

Over in this Google Groups thread is where part of this discussion started:

Am I wrong in thinking that local business listings are ONLY for businesses that are local?

I noticed a new listing in my ZIP code. They are using a toll-free number and a non-existent PO Box as contact info.

They are listed in EVERY ZIP code (that I checked). Every listing has the exact same toll-free number and exact same PO Box address, but each is in a different ZIP.

TechPros has the exact same listing in every ZIP code. Not very local, is it?

This is not the first time that Web Service APIs have been used by spammers. Splogs, or spam blogs, are often built using tools that make use of blog Platform APIs. As you can see in this post from the Blogger team back in 2005 they implemented algorithms and a CAPTCHA test to try and fight splogs.

Like every online technology that has come before it looks like we'll start seeing more new and 'creative' applications of APIs and mashup techniques to generate spam. Coming soon to a mashup near you.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Track California Fires via Mashups