Here’s a reminder to small businesses everywhere, you can’t afford to not know what you look like on Google.
A Washington D.C. restaurant owner is suing Google for incorrectly listing it as closed on the weekend. Rene Bertagna, the owner of the 40-year-old restaurant “The Serbian Crown” claims Google allowed its information to be changed by a rival restaurant in the area, effectively killing its business since Saturday and Sunday were traditionally its most profitable days of the week.
The 75-year-old Bertagna said he was unaware of his restaurant’s listing in Google Maps, and didn’t even own a computer back in 2012 when he started noticing a declining attendance.
It began in early 2012, when he experienced a sudden 75 percent drop off in customers on the weekend, the time he normally did most of his business. The slump continued for months, for no apparent reason. Bertagna’s profits plummeted, he was forced to lay off some of his staff, and he struggled to understand what was happening. Only later did Bertagna come to suspect that he was the victim of a gaping vulnerability that made his Google listings open to manipulation.
As it turns out, pretty much anyone with a Google+ profile can change information about a service listed in Google’s company directory:
Google Places, the search giant’s vast business directory, was misreporting the Serbian Crown’s hours. Anyone Googling Serbian Crown, or plugging it into Google Maps, was told incorrectly that the restaurant was closed on the weekends, Bertagna says. For a destination restaurant with no walk-in traffic, that was a fatal problem.
It’s a scary reminder that despite all its technology, Google Maps listings are a massively crowdsourced project, with crucial information that can make or break businesses when left in the hands of malicious people. Bertagna’s lawyers are alleging that Google didn’t do enough to vet the incorrect information, allowing an outsider to change its information without any sort of safeguards. For its part, Google haughtily dismissed the allegations, stating in a filing “The Serbian Crown should not be permitted to vex Google or this Court with such meritless claims.”
Bertagna’s debacle highlights just how much ignorance of your business’s digital presence can cost you. Despite its well publicized failure at being a social network, Google+ is absolutely crucial when it comes to listing the correct information about your company and using it to constantly update your web presence. This story is a stark reminder that if you don’t exist on Google, you don’t exist, and if your existence is incorrectly listed, then life becomes extremely difficult.