Google, the largest Internet search destination, can legally take advantage of the fraud generated on its platform and has little interest in fixing it. But this is not an easy problem to be solved by ethical or legal amendments, as current circumstances are extremely changing the status quo. Nevertheless, we can still do more to reduce Internet fraud.
Why Google Maps has a fraud problem
Google is positioning itself in the search market with 63% of all queries on the Web. You could even have expected that number to be greater than Microsoft's, which recovers almost everything else and people have a real bias against Bing. No growing problems of trust, nearly two-thirds of the world's population still chooses Google for research and Chrome as a browser. With a clear dominance in the search market, the company's platform is an ideal target for fraud in the same way that viruses and other exploits target Windows systems more than any other. When you want to find the largest pool of victims, you start with the largest group of people.
Nevertheless, Google's efforts to fight fraud on its platform seem minimal and mostly ineffective. The Wall Street Journal recently told a story accusing Google of profiting from millions of fake and fraudulent addresses on his platform, but what appeared to be news for many should have looked like déjà vu. It was very public knowledge for over five years. More than five years ago, a cybersecurity expert and a hacker Bryan Seely used an exploit in Google Maps& # 39; Business listings to change the FBI and Secret Service phone numbers to listen to their calls. I've successfully registered 40 calls in a single day using this process to demonstrate the problem to the government. The government listened, told Google to stop, what Google did, then everything started again three months later.
Five years later, the WSJ tells the same story from another angle: the victims who are victims. Here is an example:
A man arrived at Ms. Carter's home in an unmarked van and stated that he was a contractor to the company. I was not there. After working on the garage door, I asked for $ 728, almost double the cost of previous repairs, Carter said. I asked for money or a personal check, but she refused. "I'm alone at home with this guy," she said. "He could have knocked me down fatally."
The repairman had hijacked the name of a legitimate business on Google Maps and listed his own phone number. I went back to Mrs. Carter's house again and again, seeking her for the payment of such a mediocre remedy that she had to be redone.
C & # 39; hardly an isolated incident and, as the WSJ also points out, Google has recognized the problem:
Mr. Russell, of Google, said the company had removed more than three million fake listings from companies in 2018. Last year, the company also deactivated 150,000 accounts that downloaded the invented lists , he said, up 50% from 2017. detail his countermeasures, citing security.
In the company's response, Ethan Russell, product director for Google Maps, wrote that among the more than 200 million ads added to Google Maps over the years, only a "low percentage" is a fake. He said that last year, Google had removed more than 3 million fake company profiles, of which more than 90% had been deleted before users could see them. Google's systems have identified 85% of deleted ads and 250,000 users. The company has also disabled 150,000 user accounts deemed abusive, representing a 50% increase over 2017.
If this text sounds familiar to you, it may be because Google has recycled the same information as WSJ cited in its article. Although Google has decided nothing at all, its efforts to fight fraud on its platform rely on a delicate balance between ethics and profit – two things that do not exist in many areas of business. Google activity.
Google has also received reviews for do not control ad click fraud. Waiting, he was accused by many to crush the competition maintain the dominance of the market that allows them to act in this way. He entertained numerous class actions as well as other notable disputes involving these issues and similar issues. The company remains under constant fire in its dubious privacy practices and its constant desire to benefit from the victimization of its users. After all, in 2018, Google had only generated $ 116 billion in advertising revenue, and solving many of these problems would reduce that revenue.
Why Google can legally profit from fraud on its platform
It may seem illegal for Google to profit from millions of fraudulent ads and virtually nothing about them, but that's not always a good thing. Article 230 of the American legal code (formally 47 U.S.C. 230) protects Google and any other company operating an online platform from legal liability for the activity of the users of this platform. Derek Bambauer, Professor of Law at the University of Arizona, explains:
The actual action is described in 230 (c) (1), which indicates that no provider (eg Google) or user (perhaps Google) of an interactive computer service can be held responsible for the content created by another provider of information content. (The terms "interactive computer service" and "information content provider" are defined in section 230.) So, if I publish a review of your restaurant on, for example, Yelp, which falsely claims that the Place is invaded by cockroaches and rats, Yelp is safe from prosecution for defamation. (You can still sleep, of course – I am the provider of information content.) This remains true even if Yelp know that the examination is wrong.
An online platform makes it more difficult to detect the perpetrators of fraudulent activity, leaving little legal recourse for consumers and businesses involved. As Bambauer says, "to sue Google, it's like shooting at Superman's cloak: it's probably not the smartest thing." Google has a fleet of very good lawyers. The best option for companies is to start with public pressure on Google. "Unfortunately, there has been public pressure to talk about TED and the Wall Street Journal.
Article 230 is an almost impenetrable legal wall, with a few rare exceptions: trademark infringement and Amendment FOSTA-SESTA who has exempted cases of sex trafficking. Although this last solution may seem good at first glance, the amendment broadly outlines the circumstances in which a company assumes responsibility for the content of its platform. In response, many companies (such as Craigslist and Tumblr) completely removed and forbidden any sexual content. Many also have argued that the amendment endangers sex workers and does little to solve the problem of sex trafficking.
In the meantime, more common problems such as fraud have not prompted lawmakers to further amend Article 230. This could lead companies to close even larger portions of their platform that do not not part of the social policy of human sexuality. Without careful consideration, the changes made in Section 230 may be an incentive switch for what we are able to do online with consequences that affect the entire world. If we want to protect the freedom of the Internet, we must protect Article 230, but in doing so, we also look like Google companies that legally benefit from many frauds.
The current situation also encourages companies to do less to avoid creating new liabilities. For example, while Article 230 makes not protect online retailers from product liability claims (for example, batteries of cell phones that explode), Amazon uses its market to work around this problem. After all, the company does not sell the product directly to the consumer, but it simply takes a share of the trade it sells. This issue has become more complicated recently when a lower court decided that Amazon could share responsibility for defective products sold by a third party –but only if they warn consumers of the problem. For Amazon, choosing the most ethical option of notifying consumers could cost it millions of dollars in mandatory refunds.
Google could be facing a similar problem. More efforts to warn consumers of the risks of fraud on its platform are likely to create legal vulnerability that could bypass the protections provided by Article 230. In addition, any solution to the problem, whether in some or all of it, directly Google influences the results and Google has obligations to its shareholders as a publicly traded company. This creates a complex set of circumstances that cause Google to continue the current behavior. They are trying to develop better automatic detection methods to eradicate fraud in advance and rely on users to report any breach. Doing more could have an extremely negative impact on their business.
What Google can (and should) do to help
Should legal problems release Google from any liability? Is it ethical to exploit and take advantage of a platform that can cause significant harm to many of its users? It may seem simple to find an ethical answer to this dilemma, but the reality is the problem is much more difficult to solve. If Google tries a solution that is vulnerable to expensive court proceedings, it will be necessary to come up with an effective solution. In the worst case scenario, this would mean the end of Google Maps.
While such extreme results seemed very unlikely, we witnessed a massive shutdown of Internet services when FOSTA-SESTA became law. The companies did not wait for legal action but closed rather preventively. Google has already threatened to close its news service on the Adoption of Article 13 by the EU (later renamed Article 17) because of the potential costs.
No matter what could happen, Bryan Seely says Google still has options:
It is not in Google's internal interest to find all spam 100% of the time, as it takes a lot of time on a large scale, with a lot of ambiguous / difficult to determine content. Some are obvious, others not. Google is expected to interact and help different countries and states to develop a "legal" or "non-legal" business database API, so that entities such as the state department that grants business licenses are verified when they are not in compliance. a company is online. The reason we issue such licenses to organizations is for the responsibility and the protection of consumers; it's almost a complete bypass of this process.
For this to work, Google and the government should work together. In addition, Google may provide contextual tools to report fraud. For example, let's take this basic research for an electrician:
It should be noted that during the most common screen resolution 1280 × 800you will only see ads in your results unless you scroll. But let's look at the first option and how this company is positioned on Yelp:
If this company commits fraud, how would you report the problem to Google? Each search result has a small, easy-to-ignore menu, but even that does not provide the option:
You can find out why the ad was served, but you can not post it directly from the only contextual option you have. In addition, Google leaves a lot of leeway to provide useful tools to its users:
Google is not required to create a liability by warning you of potential fraud and may simply post a link to information and post information about how to protect yourself and report a problem. Meanwhile, the company's most important verification activity involves sending a postcard to the user who wants to claim an address and publish a list. By configuring mail forwarding, virtually anyone can redirect mail from the address of an existing business to itself to support that address on Google.
The same process works to create new lists. Seely believes that an individual could create hundreds of fake listings a day. I tried the process (without finalizing it) myself and it took less than five minutes to my first try. It's 12 lists per hour, or 84 per workday if you take a long break for lunch. With a little practice, and perhaps with the help of account generators easily purchased in darknet markets for as little as $ 10, it's not hard to see how to dedicate a person could handle hundreds of fake ads every day. Even using a manual process, you would exceed 100 lists by doing a few extra hours.
Google could strive to introduce better auditing processes, like the one suggested by Bryan Seely, but it's hard to believe that it will do so when it will not even bother. # 39; print. DO NOT FORWARD on his verification documents (photo above).
Even though Google will probably never eliminate fraud on its platform and do not know what additional methods would be most useful, but it's obvious that Google has spent at least half a decade ignoring the commendable efforts that no create no additional legal liability for the company. While it's not fair to regard greed as Google's only motivation, its behavior demonstrates a preference for profit over customer protection in several specific cases.
What you can do to motivate Google
Complex and widespread problems torture us daily in the news and confidence in the media continues to decline. Even when you can believe what you read, hear, or see, you may feel that you can not do anything against problems as vast and complex as this one.
While fighting online fraud will require a lot of work from a lot of people, small efforts from each of us can bring us closer to a safer online experience for all. Here are some options to consider if you want to help Google do the right thing:
- Report fraud and other scams when you see them. You do not have to be a victim of this situation, as long as you show up to a company on the basis of evidence (which is often found online) and not assumptions. .
- Tell Google to implement better solutions, like those discussed in this article, by sending your comments. A message will not be important in itself, but many messages from users can do it. You can also tweet on Google Maps regularly to encourage them to address these issues in greater depth. Even without response, this tweet exists in public and will be indexed by search engines, which can at least increase the recognition. (Google Maps also has an Instagram account.) You can also send comments on problematic search results. You can even send them physical mail at 1600 Amphitheater Parkway in Mountain View, CA 94043. do without leaving your computer. You have many options.
- Contact your senators and encourage them to intelligently solve this problem by collaborating with Google to create a better business verification system. If Google strives, other companies facing similar (but lesser) problems will follow suit to stay competitive.
- Talk about this problem with people you know-Especially the less technology savvy who may not have the knowledge and experience to recognize fraudulent entries in advance. Virtually no one trusts what they find on the internetbut (as mentioned before), people still place surprising trust in Google. It is necessary to understand the specific problems related to specific types of activities when you want to protect yourself online. Share this knowledge with others so that they can do the same thing. You can share an article like this, but you will do more with a face-to-face conversation.
This may take some time, even with such exposure, but if we continue to press Google for it to further strive to solve this problem, we can improve the situation. These are just small ways everyone can help, but as Mark Baldino have made greater efforts to combat this problem. You should do what you feel is right. If you have another positive way to motivate Google to reduce the number of frauds on your platform, please share it in the comments. We only have a chance to do that with our combined efforts.
Top image credit: Adam Dachis