Google Maps has had quite a bit of the spotlight recently, with various user-submitted pranks making international headlines
under Google’s watchful nose. I myself have been responsible for more than just a few of these pranks.
1. Edward Snowden’s Super Secret Hiding Place
(on the lawn of the White House)
This is easily my favorite. It was the first in this list because it was my first Edward Snowden / White House related Google Maps prank.
Komo news even filmed the process and watched me build it live. Along with renaming the Library of Congress to the Zoolander School For Kids Who Can’t Read Good.
2. Intercepting Calls to the Secret Service & FBI
This was less of a prank and more of a practical / ominous demonstration of what can actually be accomplished when Google Maps has very large holes in their security / verification processes. I was able to build business listings that were identical to the real Secret Service in Washington DC, and the FBI in San Francisco. Within a few minutes, I was able to manipulate reviews, and outrank the originals, and then any calls to my fake business listings would then be routed directly to the real Secret Service & FBI. In the first day there were quite a few calls to these fake listings from unsuspecting local and federal agents that I was able to record and then demonstrate live to the Secret Service. I just gave a TEDx talk where you can hear more about it if you like. This article is from ValleyWag / Gawker by Nitasha Tiku. You can even hear 2 of the recorded calls that were in this original news story.
3. Jack Bauer’s Old Hiding Spot
Who doesn’t like Jack Bauer? Remember how he spent a lot of time at the White House? I thought people would like to see that be more official.
4. Edward’s Snow Den – Snowboarding Shop
(inside the White House) Link
I built this on April 7th or so, to be used in a demonstration for my TEDx talk to show how the flaw that existed for the Secret Service prank still exists over a year later.
Someone ended up finding this and it made news all over the world, and I started to get messages from friends and family, and journalists who know of my previous “shenanigans.”
5. North Korean Concentration Camp Gets Renamed
Kim Jong Un is ridiculous. In a bad way. In a, I have nuclear weapons and don’t take my medication sort of way.
So I found a concentration camp on the map, and renamed it to something more appropriate.
6. The Church of Scientology aka church with no sense of humor. Or Sense.
Some of my friends told me that making fun of the “Church” of scientology is not a wise idea. Well neither was potentially getting sent to Guantanamo Bay for doing my best impression of the NSA and recording the government.
7. Vlad The Impaler
This guys views on LGBT rights are practically in the stone age. Sucks that he is one of the richest people in the world and most people
who stand up to him end up getting shot and left for dead in the street in the middle of day.
8. The Mormon Comedy Club (at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, UT)
Man, I really love Southpark, specifically Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They are consistently willing to challenge authority and show that not everything should just be accepted without criticism.
They are hysterical, and so I made the Mormon Temple into the Mormon Comedy Club.
9. Westboro Baptist Church
These guys know how to take a joke right?
They never ever react horribly or blow things out of proportion?
Someone send this to them.
10. Google Android Pees on Apple Logo
Of the top 10 in this post, this is the first one that I did not create. But I had to pay respects to the time and effort that went into creating this.
This prank along with numerous others (listed above) were large factors in Google’s decision to suspend the MapMaker product which acts as crowdsourcing tool to all Google Maps users to submit “helpful” content that would then appear on Google Maps. Looks like they didn’t prevent a lot of the “helpful” data from showing up on the map.
As of yesterday, Google has disabled its “Mapmaker” feature. According to SearchEngineLand, who spoke to Google insiders, the reason is to attempt to curb “pranks” such as my hilarious and moderately known classics: Edward’s Snow Den in the White House, and several from February of 2014 detailed on Blumenthals blog including a different Snowden related prank on the White House lawn.
Of course, I did not make these “pranks” because I love a good joke. Rather, I have gone to great lengths to attempt to expose the multi-billion dollar fraud that spammers and scammers use Google Maps to perpetrate on the American public. In short: fake business listings dominate the Google landscape. If you hire one of these businesses and you get cheated, you have no recourse. If you hire one of these businesses and you don’t get cheated, the government does; these fake businesses do not pay taxes. The problem is so massive that I’m writing a book in the hopes of exposing the fraud perpetrated not just through Google, but through the other search engines as well.
That’s why this development from Google is such a big deal, and why it could lead to even more monumental progress in the battle of good versus evil. I heartily commend Google for disabling the feature to reevaluate its practices, and sincerely thank them for it.
Of course, Google has disabled this feature once before. Back in 2014, all I had to do was use Google Maps to wiretap the Secret Service, then confess to what I did, then persuade the Secret Service I wasn’t crazy, then watch the Secret Service ask Google to fix the problem. And it worked; Google shut down the service for six weeks. Then it re-enabled it, with no visible improvements whatsoever.
This time, I’m really hoping that they take better advantage of their hiatus.
But what do I want them to do specifically? I’m glad you asked, me. In short:
- Require businesses to disclose a physical address, either to Google privately or publicly, rather than permit the use of so-called “Postal Box” stores, which make fraudulent listings far easier.
- Discontinue its telephone verification system for businesses, in favor of cross-referencing the prospective listing against business license records or reasonably equivalent information, to effectively prevent fraudulent businesses from obtaining Google listings.
- Improve reporting tools to provide an efficient and transparent means for fraudulent businesses identified by the public to be removed by Google.
- Limit the abuse permitted through crowdsourcing by limiting the number of edits that company profiles are allowed to make without additional scrutiny being applied.
Some of these changes wouldn’t cost them anything; others might cost them a lot. But the cost of not making these changes is simply too high.
To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, help me help Google help you. Sign the ONLINE PETITION, asking Google to make these changes before they reinstate Mapmaker. Post it around Ye Olde Internete, and let’s get as many signatures on this petition as possible before Google decides what to do.
If Google follows these suggestions, I will fly to their headquarters at my own expense to thank them in person. I might not even get kicked out of their lobby by security. If they don’t….well, there’s always the book.
One month ago, I gave a TEDx talk called “Wiretapping the Secret Service Can be Easy & Fun” at TEDx Kirkland.
Today I got word that SearchEngineLand.com was reporting that Google MapMaker will be taken offline because of increasing amounts of fake and fraudulent edits that they are no longer able to hide from the general public. In essence, MapMaker and the Google Maps product ecosystem is completely out of control.
According to Barry Schwartz, the author of the article:
“But these hacks and fraudulent edits have been going on for a long long time, it took one mans efforts, Bryan Seely, to expose these loopholes to the world to force Google to take down Map Maker”
The Google MapMaker team spoke with Barry Schwartz of SearchEngineLand.com and attributed the decision to take MapMaker offline because of various pranks and spammy edits such as Edward’s Snow Den in the White House and a Google Android character was doing its business on the Apple Logo.
I could not be more happy at Google’s decision to suspend their MapMaker product. Personally, this fight to get Google to acknowledge the problem even exists has dragged on for far too long.
It has been 1 month to the day that I gave a TEDx talk that specifically addressed many problems at Google Maps and other local business directories, and to hear that their decision has been attributed to my efforts makes the entire fight worth it. It has not been any easy journey, and I had to pull out some crazy tricks that I would not care to repeat to get the job done. Intercepting calls to the US Government is not something I would ever recommend, and the odds that I would have gone to prison are far higher than I wanted to think about.
There is still more to be done, lots more. My work is not finished by any stretch of the imagination, but if you would like to help, like this article and share it. The more people who can see the truth for what it is, the sooner we can put an end to maps fraud.