Google No Longer Accepts Emergency Data Reports

No help from Google

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.

10 Responses to “Google No Longer Accepts Emergency Data Reports”

  1. on 23 Jun 2009 at 3:04 pm Mike Blumenthal

    It is conceivable that Google pays special attention to Community Edits of Hospitals. And insures the accuracy through that process. But if that were the case then why is the person that commenting at my blog having such a hard time?

  2. on 23 Jun 2009 at 7:03 pm David Mihm

    There’s also the issue of community edits pointing info to the WRONG person, which could very easily have happened to the Newport Beach Police Dept in Danny Sullivan’s example — http://blip.tv/file/2150735/

  3. on 24 Jun 2009 at 1:34 am admin

    Mike,
    I was stunned by that comment on your blog. I sincerely hope Google sees that and will take manual action on the part of the cancer center. Obviously, this is not a solution – having to make a lot of noise to get help – but I felt very badly thinking of that clinic’s patients being lost in the streets.

    Perhaps you are right that Google may possibly pay some sort of special attention to community edits to certain kinds of businesses. I wish they had issued an official statement regarding the removal of the reporting function.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  4. on 24 Jun 2009 at 1:35 am admin

    Ah, yes, David. Danny’s experience was memorable.

    Community edits seems fraught with perils, in so many directions.

    Hope you’re doing well, David!

  5. on 24 Jun 2009 at 9:03 am Carl Bromley

    Perhaps a community-edits improvement process is in order. Would Google participate? Even flagging search results where community edits is active would be helpful, let’s the user know there is conflicting information.

  6. on 24 Jun 2009 at 1:29 pm admin

    Welcome, Carl,
    That’s an interesting suggestion – Google alerting the public to data about which it has conflicting information. Your idea is a unique one, and yet, I’m not seeing this as an ultimate fix to the problem.

    I think what we are debating here is whether Google has a responsibility to ensure, on their own time, that they are correctly representing the businesses whose information they have published. When it comes to emergency services, the answer to this question becomes even more critical.

    If I decided to create a directory of emergency services contact information and I got a bunch of the numbers and addresses wrong, I might cause citizens untold distress. One doctor has recently begged Google to fix this problem before someone dies. That’s pretty serious.

    Serious enough, I believe, for the responsibility for accuracy to be put on Google’s shoulders – not the shoulders of the public.

    In sum, I believe if Google created the index, it’s their job to make it accurate – not yours, mine or my doctor’s.

    Still, I think your idea is an unusual and interesting one and I really appreciate you taking a moment to share it here.
    Miriam

  7. on 09 Jul 2009 at 8:34 am Carrie

    I used to work with Google as an independent contractor and was supervised by one of the people who would probably previously be going through and editing the information within 48 hours as you say. In my experience with a succession of these workers at Google, they never did their part of the job on time, blamed it on me, and anything on their side went the speed of a snail. I can’t speak for all Google workers, but I have to say that some of the things my supervisors waited years to do were much more important to Google than this is, so I’m sure this is way down their “to-do” list.

    Do you have any evidence that any successful 48-hour change was EVER made by a person employed by Google? If not, I’m going to come right out and say that no changes were being made despite the promise from Google and that’s why they made the switch. Google, like many big companies, can be pretty disorganized.

  8. on 09 Jul 2009 at 12:43 pm admin

    Welcome to the SEOigloo Blog, Carrie,

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment regarding your previous experience as an independent contractor for Google. I didn’t even realize that Google hired outside contractors.

    I do not have any examples of the 48 hour option having worked, but I will absolutely ask my colleagues in Local if they have. I have a feeling they will all be very interested in your comments.

    Thank you for stopping by.

    Miriam

  9. on 17 Feb 2010 at 6:08 am earlpearl

    Miriam:

    Problems with hospital directions persist:

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/maps/thread?tid=4ae416b9da6c0e47&hl=en

    Google itself doesn’t fix it. It took a charitable nice contributor to “try” and fix the problem. Still not completed.

    How can Google establish what is the “de facto” source of information on the web, the “de facto” main source for trying to find directions and then not take responsability to fix these issues themselves.

    Its a high risk issue and problem.

  10. on 17 Feb 2010 at 2:21 pm admin

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the link, and it’s so interesting to me to see how a hospital worker says it’s unacceptable that something like this would take months to fix. They feel that way, and so do I, and so do you. But Google? I continue to feel that they went about creating Local incorrectly from the get-go. It should have been opt-in only. Instead, they took all of these business’ info without permission and flung it together and now, it’s up to the business to beg for damage control, if they happen to discover that they are being misrepresented. Google put the cart before the horse.

    Miriam

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