Anyone with Google+ account can submit changes to ‘verified’ business listings for approval – but target site owner denies involvement
- theguardian.com, Wednesday 15 January 2014 08.07 EST
Thousands of hotel listings on Google Maps and Google+ have been hijacked to point to an external commercial site, leading to allegations of an ‘inside job’.
The official Google+ pages of hotels and guest houses across the globe including the US and UK have had details, including the external web address for their pages, changed by an unknown third party. That has effectively “poisoned” search results for those properties, because the Google+ listings are used to populate Google Maps listings and Google search results, as well as other Google services.
The web addresses listed were altered to point to a third-party booking service.
In one example, “the URLs for the hotel’s official website leads to “courtyardmarriott.roomstobook.info” rather than the hotel’s actual page here within the Marriott.com domain,” said Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land who discovered the hijacks.
The majority of the verified listings were altered to direct visitors to websites Roomstobook.net and Roomstobook.info, both of which then redirect to the third-party booking service Hotelswhiz.com, or to hotel pages within the Roomstobook websites.
“We were not involved in the hijackings and we are dealing with the fallout. We reported the redirect issue to Google when we spotted it on 8 January,” Karim Mawani, director of HotelsWhiz.com told the Guardian.
“Because of the backlinks [from the Google+ pages through the .info domains to the hotelswhiz site] we have been penalised by Google and our site has been paralysed, so we are victims here,” he said.
Mawani said that he and his company didn’t know what or who carried out the modifications to the Google+ listings.
A search of Google+ listings also showed the domain Roomstobook.org being used, with over 4,000 listings affected in total.
Anyone can attempt a change
The Guardian has confirmed that anyone with a Google+ account – which can be obtained by registering a Gmail email – can submit a change to any detail of a Google+ Local page, whether verified or not, including the listed website address, phone number, physical address or name of the place. Users can also mark the place as closed, as a duplicate or flag inappropriate reviews or photos.
However once submitted, the change must be reviewed before being implemented on the listing.