Tuesday 23 Jun 2009
Last year, after having an abysmal experiencing using Google Local during a medical emergency, I received a personal response from Google Maps Guide, Jen Chin, detailing Google’s special provisions for correcting emergency services data.
At that time, going to this page in Google and clicking on the heading I see incorrect business information for emergency services, hospitals or shelters took you to a page built specifically for reporting this type of problem. As Jen Chin explained to me:
Our contact options in the help center allows users to tell us specifically when emergency service, shelter, and other hospital data is incorrect, and we aim to resolve these within 48 hours. While it’s not possible for us to go through every single hospital listing in our index, we do our best to ensure the accuracy of major listings.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, as the scenario depended upon hospitals, shelters, doctors, poison control centers, fire departments, police departments, etc., first realizing that their business data had been co-opted by Google, without their knowledge, then realizing the data was wrong, and then finding that page with the option to contact Google directly to let them know that these emergency services were being misrepresented in Google’s index. That’s a lot of serendipitous steps that needed to occur, but at least there was a provision on Google’s part for this extremely serious situation.
Well, we should have been glad for what we had back then, because we no longer have even this roundabout method of fixing Google’s broken local index of emergency services data. Mike Blumenthal brought my attention to this seemingly small but ostensibly critical change in how Google is now handling their incorrect emergency data.
The I see incorrect business information for emergency services, hospitals or shelters link now takes us to a page containing this statement:
The best way to notify us of incorrect listing information appearing for emergency services, hospitals, or shelters is to first make the change yourself using Community Edits. Changes to these listings won’t appear immediately. We’ll use the feedback provided and, once verified, the changes will go live.
If you’re a member of the organization at the location which currently displays incorrect information, you can also claim the business listing through the Local Business Center. By claiming the listing, you’ll be able to make permanent changes that can’t be modified by others through Community Edits.
I am writing this post in order to update the information the SEOigloo blog is offering, and I’ll be adding an addendum to the post I wrote regarding Jen Chin’s earlier advice, but right now, I want to take a moment to state that I strongly feel that leaving the fate of local emergency service providers up to the imperfect action of community edits is a terrible idea. Sometimes community edits work. Sometimes they don’t. Is that really good enough when we’re dealing with the contact information for an ER, a women’s shelter or the fire department? Mike Blumenthal has pointed out to me that the answer to this question can be found right in Google Maps Help Group:
My phone number is being listed under a Hospitals Listing, and I am receiving phone calls daily from people in need of this particular hospital. I tried editing the unverified listing, calling the hospital, calling google, flagging this as inappropriate but the phone calls and listing will not stop. Any other suggestion on how to remove my number not only for my sake but for the people trying to contact this hospital.
I do not subscribe to Google Maps nor have I added any listings myself.
When I had my own medical emergency last year, all 4 medical providers I had to contact were being misrepresented by Google. I’m not a statistician and I don’t know how to extrapolate what that means in terms of the number of emergency services that are being incorrectly listed nationwide by Google, but I think that numbers are the whole problem here.
Google remains convinced that problems like these can be handled algorithmically, without any type of customer support and I remain convinced that this a totally inappropriate approach to real-life scenarios which involve citizens frantically calling a Poison Control Center because their toddler just ate something toxic. That’s not a numbers game I’m describing. It’s a human emergency based upon real people with desperately important needs. Google’s answer of leaving the fate of citizens up to the indifferent, imperfect nature of community edits is not responsible or right.
I feel like I’ve been pointing a disapproving finger at Google a lot lately. I don’t particularly enjoy doing this, but when a company does something that appears to me to be antithetical to the public good, it deserves public comment.
Why would Google remove this small service that once enabled some direct contact between them and the nation’s emergency workers? Were they being deluged with requests from surgeons and county sheriffs to please stop publishing false contact information for their offices? Is the problem so big that Google decided it was taking too much of their time to respond to, leading them to put all responsibility for their index back on the shoulders of these vital local workers? I can’t imagine a less civic-minded approach to public welfare from a corporation that is making billions of dollars off public information.
If Google is not concerned about the effect their bad data is having on their neighbors, they need to become concerned and your response to this dangerous situation is important.
Should Google allow emergency service providers to contact them directly? You tell me.