Help fight advertising

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Help fight advertising

Frederik Ramm
Hi,

over the past year or so, I have recreationally hunted down advertising
on OSM and removed it. In many cases it's a clear-cut situation (there
were cases where advertising borders on vandalism, with whole streets
being named after a business), but there have also been situations where
a local mapper had diligently copied a business's sales slogan into the
description tag and was then upset to see this removed.

As more and more SEO firms start dumping their stuff onto OSM (and here
I am not talking about those who actually talk to us and listen, but
those who don't care), this is becoming a fight that needs to be fought
by the community as a whole.

With this posting I'd like to start a wider discussion about
advertising; the reason it goes to talk-us is that the USA are more
strongly targeted by SEO companies and at the same time the community
there is still not as big and watchful as in other regions of interest
to spammers, leading to a relatively high volume of unwanted advertising
in the US.


General rant about advertising

I'll make this short as it's likely the most opinionated part of this
message. Advertising illustrates a lot of what has gone wrong in western
societies. There's a war on over attention, and most people are affected
by it throughout their daily lives - even if you run an adblocker, you
won't be immune to the attention-grabbing design of web sites and apps
and games. The films you watch on TV will deliver content that fits
snugly around the ad breaks. Advertising has crept into the home, into
schools and kindergartens. Advertising calls you on the phone.
Advertising's very mission is not to make your life better, but take
your mind away from what matters, and making you want something.
Advertising harms rational thought, self-determination, wellbeing, and
the environment.


Advertising != information

It is information if you say "there's a supermarket here named
so-and-so, and they are open at this time, and this is their telephone
number, and they sell these products". It is advertising if the products
or services are described in a way designed to make this particular
vendor stand out, or designed to make you want to buy. A list of
products or services can already venture into the world of advertising.
Example: "Sells ice cream and milk shakes" - not advertising. "Sells
chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, homegrown blueberry ice cream,
and caramel fudge ice cream" - this is getting dangerously close to
advertising (do you taste it in your mouth already?). "City's premier
spot for delicious organic ice creams, prepared on the premises by our
Italian chef", well.


Rant about advertising in OSM

Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want;
for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to
carry their marketing message across. More precisely, you will usually
have a business crafting a marketing message, asking another business to
"manage their online visibility" for a small fee, and that business then
exploits cheap labour in a sweatshop somewhere on the planet to add the
marketing message to OSM (and Google Plus, and Facebook, and all the
yellow pages they can find). Data added to OSM this way consists of a
factual part (name and type of business, address, opening hours), and an
advertising part (usually in the "note" or "description" tag, and/or in
changeset comments and user profiles).

The advertising part itself has no place in OSM, but even the factual
part is often buggy in a number of ways:

* the address tags don't follow OSM conventions (suite/unit number added
to addr:street, abbreviations in street names)
* the placement of the node is wrong (in the middle of the road,
clustered in the desert or on another continent due to some geocoding
cock-up)
* the placement of the node violates the copyright of whatever gecoder
was used to generate it
* the node doesn't have a tag that describes what it is, in OSM terms
(no "shop" or "amenity" or "office" or anything - or at best some
generic office=company tag)
* the node doesn't actually signify any relevant walk-in business but is
just put there to publish an URL or phone number (witness recent
locksmith scam)
* the node uses other unsuitable tags like "Keywords", "Services
offered", "Category", or incorrect opening hours)

Such advertising is regularly added by accounts created solely for the
purpose of adding one single business, and the accounts will usually
have a name derived directly from the business name, and will never
reply to any attempt at contacting them. In very rare cases it might be
an actual business owner adding themselves to the map, but in the
overwhelming number of cases it's just professional spammers.

Advertising also distorts the quality of OSM. If a mapper maps an area,
they will most likely add *all* doctors they encounter and not just
those who happen to pay money to an online visibility enhancement firm.
If we allow advertisers to flood OSM with POIs, even *if* they had none
of the flaws above, OSM would still lose its appeal of being made by
locals who know best.


What should I do?

Advertising has no place in OSM. If you encounter advertising, you have
a few options:

* Contact the mapper responsible and politely ask them to fix it and/or
stop adding advertising. In most cases, since these are throwaway
accounts created by professional spammers, you won't receive a response
but when in doubt, try it.

* Leave the factual information in place, remove only the advertising. I
recommend to do this only if the factual information seems correct and
meaningful and at the right place; if the factual information is only a
name and an address, ask yourself: Should *you* be the one who completes
the SEO company's job for them, or rather delete the whole business?

* Remove the node altogehter - recommended if the tagging is buggy.

* Use the business contact information provided to call/email them and
ask which SEO firm they have paid to add data to OSM, and explain how
this volunteer project is damaged by the actions of the SEO firm and
that this also tarnishes the business reputation. Recommended if you
like a little fight; some SEO operations have already been stopped from
abusing OSM that way.

* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view
to detect potential advertising?


Examples of advertising in OSM

I've made a list of roughly 1750 nodes in the US, sorted by state, that
look suspiciously like advertising. The list is algorithmically
generated and almost certainly has the odd false positive, where a
mapper simply described where exactly the rare tree is hidden and my
algorithm thought this must be advertising, or where something really is
just a harmless description of products offered. The list is certainly
not exhaustive; I'm sure that using Overpass to search for tell-tale SEO
signs you can come up with may more.

The data is in CSV format with the columns:

date_last_edited,object,created_by,last_edited_by,name,description

If you're in the mood, grab a few and kick out the most outrageous
abuses of OSM. And maybe we can establish ways to make this a habit in
the project. Ideas welcome!

I wanted to include the list here but that would probably have condemned
this message to spam filters, hence:

http://www.remote.org/frederik/tmp/us-seo.txt

You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has
already crept into OSM.

Bye
Frederik

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Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail [hidden email]  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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Re: Help fight advertising

Ian Dees
Hi Frederik,

I disagree that this is a "fight". Have we attempted to reach out to the people running this operation? Have we asked the Operations team to correlate IP address for the accounts that are created and used once? Have we looked at what email addresses they use when signing up for clues? It would be great to have these folks contributing the non-advertising parts in a manner consistent with the rest of the community, and perhaps they'd be willing to adjust their practices if we are able to ask them.

Also, your characterization of US mappers being more lax about this is a little insulting. OpenStreetMappers in the US spend lots of time looking for this kind of stuff and revert some of the most obvious stuff. Clifford Snow, for example, has spent a lot of time researching who might be behind these edits. I look forward to his feedback here, too.

I appreciate the time you've spent putting together this list of nodes. I'll take a look at some of them, and maybe we can load them into MapRoulette to help work through the list?

-Ian

On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 4:44 PM, Frederik Ramm <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi,

over the past year or so, I have recreationally hunted down advertising
on OSM and removed it. In many cases it's a clear-cut situation (there
were cases where advertising borders on vandalism, with whole streets
being named after a business), but there have also been situations where
a local mapper had diligently copied a business's sales slogan into the
description tag and was then upset to see this removed.

As more and more SEO firms start dumping their stuff onto OSM (and here
I am not talking about those who actually talk to us and listen, but
those who don't care), this is becoming a fight that needs to be fought
by the community as a whole.

With this posting I'd like to start a wider discussion about
advertising; the reason it goes to talk-us is that the USA are more
strongly targeted by SEO companies and at the same time the community
there is still not as big and watchful as in other regions of interest
to spammers, leading to a relatively high volume of unwanted advertising
in the US.


General rant about advertising

I'll make this short as it's likely the most opinionated part of this
message. Advertising illustrates a lot of what has gone wrong in western
societies. There's a war on over attention, and most people are affected
by it throughout their daily lives - even if you run an adblocker, you
won't be immune to the attention-grabbing design of web sites and apps
and games. The films you watch on TV will deliver content that fits
snugly around the ad breaks. Advertising has crept into the home, into
schools and kindergartens. Advertising calls you on the phone.
Advertising's very mission is not to make your life better, but take
your mind away from what matters, and making you want something.
Advertising harms rational thought, self-determination, wellbeing, and
the environment.


Advertising != information

It is information if you say "there's a supermarket here named
so-and-so, and they are open at this time, and this is their telephone
number, and they sell these products". It is advertising if the products
or services are described in a way designed to make this particular
vendor stand out, or designed to make you want to buy. A list of
products or services can already venture into the world of advertising.
Example: "Sells ice cream and milk shakes" - not advertising. "Sells
chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, homegrown blueberry ice cream,
and caramel fudge ice cream" - this is getting dangerously close to
advertising (do you taste it in your mouth already?). "City's premier
spot for delicious organic ice creams, prepared on the premises by our
Italian chef", well.


Rant about advertising in OSM

Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want;
for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to
carry their marketing message across. More precisely, you will usually
have a business crafting a marketing message, asking another business to
"manage their online visibility" for a small fee, and that business then
exploits cheap labour in a sweatshop somewhere on the planet to add the
marketing message to OSM (and Google Plus, and Facebook, and all the
yellow pages they can find). Data added to OSM this way consists of a
factual part (name and type of business, address, opening hours), and an
advertising part (usually in the "note" or "description" tag, and/or in
changeset comments and user profiles).

The advertising part itself has no place in OSM, but even the factual
part is often buggy in a number of ways:

* the address tags don't follow OSM conventions (suite/unit number added
to addr:street, abbreviations in street names)
* the placement of the node is wrong (in the middle of the road,
clustered in the desert or on another continent due to some geocoding
cock-up)
* the placement of the node violates the copyright of whatever gecoder
was used to generate it
* the node doesn't have a tag that describes what it is, in OSM terms
(no "shop" or "amenity" or "office" or anything - or at best some
generic office=company tag)
* the node doesn't actually signify any relevant walk-in business but is
just put there to publish an URL or phone number (witness recent
locksmith scam)
* the node uses other unsuitable tags like "Keywords", "Services
offered", "Category", or incorrect opening hours)

Such advertising is regularly added by accounts created solely for the
purpose of adding one single business, and the accounts will usually
have a name derived directly from the business name, and will never
reply to any attempt at contacting them. In very rare cases it might be
an actual business owner adding themselves to the map, but in the
overwhelming number of cases it's just professional spammers.

Advertising also distorts the quality of OSM. If a mapper maps an area,
they will most likely add *all* doctors they encounter and not just
those who happen to pay money to an online visibility enhancement firm.
If we allow advertisers to flood OSM with POIs, even *if* they had none
of the flaws above, OSM would still lose its appeal of being made by
locals who know best.


What should I do?

Advertising has no place in OSM. If you encounter advertising, you have
a few options:

* Contact the mapper responsible and politely ask them to fix it and/or
stop adding advertising. In most cases, since these are throwaway
accounts created by professional spammers, you won't receive a response
but when in doubt, try it.

* Leave the factual information in place, remove only the advertising. I
recommend to do this only if the factual information seems correct and
meaningful and at the right place; if the factual information is only a
name and an address, ask yourself: Should *you* be the one who completes
the SEO company's job for them, or rather delete the whole business?

* Remove the node altogehter - recommended if the tagging is buggy.

* Use the business contact information provided to call/email them and
ask which SEO firm they have paid to add data to OSM, and explain how
this volunteer project is damaged by the actions of the SEO firm and
that this also tarnishes the business reputation. Recommended if you
like a little fight; some SEO operations have already been stopped from
abusing OSM that way.

* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view
to detect potential advertising?


Examples of advertising in OSM

I've made a list of roughly 1750 nodes in the US, sorted by state, that
look suspiciously like advertising. The list is algorithmically
generated and almost certainly has the odd false positive, where a
mapper simply described where exactly the rare tree is hidden and my
algorithm thought this must be advertising, or where something really is
just a harmless description of products offered. The list is certainly
not exhaustive; I'm sure that using Overpass to search for tell-tale SEO
signs you can come up with may more.

The data is in CSV format with the columns:

date_last_edited,object,created_by,last_edited_by,name,description

If you're in the mood, grab a few and kick out the most outrageous
abuses of OSM. And maybe we can establish ways to make this a habit in
the project. Ideas welcome!

I wanted to include the list here but that would probably have condemned
this message to spam filters, hence:

http://www.remote.org/frederik/tmp/us-seo.txt

You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has
already crept into OSM.

Bye
Frederik

--
Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail [hidden email]  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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Re: Help fight advertising

stevea
In reply to this post by Frederik Ramm
Thank you Frederik, thank you Ian.  Yes!  To both of you.

I am glad to see Frederik encourages me to do what I (somewhat timidly, at first) already now do in earnest:  sweep up when I see some poop in our map.  It took me many years to grow my confidence as an OSM volunteer as "somebody who knows what he is doing" and I still do this with very reserved pride and a touch of caution and trepidation that I might go too far, then I aim for the sweet spot of "this is how we map" and it is good.  Please, I encourage all of us to stand up straight (even on our tiptoes every once in a while if we must reach for mature editing skills) and screw up our courage and confidence to do this very important work.  It is vital to the future of OSM.

I would also like Ian to follow up (here, in a week or three) with what he learned about "real analytics-based research yielding excellent intelligence that this minor-to-moderate problem is N # of SEO firms, and we are watching certain IP addresses."  (Or something similar, like a newer wiki page like "region-based anti-vandalism skill development").  You know, what smart people with good tools do when "paint bombs are being thrown at our canvas."  Let's be those smart people and use those good tools, developing them with good dialog and documenting what we mean to do.

Happy mapping and have a great day!

SteveA
California
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Re: Help fight advertising

stevea
In reply to this post by Frederik Ramm
I phoned a local business owner from Frederik's list and learned he used "Bright Valley Marketing" (https://www.brightvalleymarketing.com) out of Sacramento, California:  it was they who apparently are the culprit.  The business owner was happy to recognize and vaguely seemed to understand the harm to both his business and OSM, then encouraged me to remove the ad "from whatever seems to be bothering you, Steve."  After I said that we're trying to get these kinds of SEO firms to change their business practices, he wished me "good luck with that."  Good, honest, done in sixty seconds, actionable and now you know, too.

One down.  (Who is going to call Bright Valley and chew their ear off?)  I put some good soul into this project (Frederik), what's the script for next?

SteveA

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Re: Help fight advertising

Mike N.
In reply to this post by Frederik Ramm
This is a good time to bring up the subject because the recent
'locksmith' advertising was most bothersome: partly because the
locksmith industry as a whole in the US is as shady as you can get while
being barely legal, and partly because I'm sure the physical locations
had no relevance; almost no one goes to a 'locksmith shop' to get their
car door unlocked, and many of them just operate out of their residence.

On 3/1/2018 5:44 PM, Frederik Ramm wrote:
> Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want;
> for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to
> carry their marketing message across.

   Ironically, OSM in the US is nearly a black hole to advertisers.  As
I last knew, adding something unique to OSM does not mean that it will
ever show up in Google.   So I infer that we don't allow Google-bots to
sniff the OSM changeset list.  If advertisers get things right, the best
their client could hope for is to attract OSM app users.   If they get
the factual part wrong, it goes nowhere.

   In this list for my region, I recognize at least 2 people who live in
the area because they made additional relevant edits that only a local
would know.   Otherwise, I haven't bothered to remove the advertising
text because it's only space in the database, and a tiny percentage of
the overall data.


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Re: Help fight advertising

stevea
In reply to this post by stevea
Sent to Bright Valley Marketing via their website Contact text box:

How can you help me?  More like how can YOU help Bright Valley Marketing?!

OK:  you can stop putting advertising into your clients' OpenStreetMap (OSM) nodes.  Phone, website, opening_hours, addr: fields:  those are all OK.  The breezy text in the note: field that not only smacks of advertising but actually goes way too far and BECOMES advertising, especially in a volunteer and non-profit project like OSM:  No.  Absolutely, positively, no.  Also, the payment field should not say a single word about financing, especially business-offered financing.  This crosses the line into sleazy, many are watching what you are doing here.

We are asking you politely to stop doing this.  Starting right now.  Please reply to this so I know you have received this message.  I will likely accept your apology for abusing our project should you have the honor to offer one and it accompanies your understanding to cease and desist these practices.

SteveA
OpenStreetMap volunteer

(A little harsh?  Maybe.  Maybe not.)
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Re: Help fight advertising

Mike N.
On 3/1/2018 7:36 PM, OSM Volunteer stevea wrote:
> Sent to Bright Valley Marketing via their website Contact text box:

   Since there are several SEOs out there doing this, it would also be
interesting to talk to one of them to find out where they got this idea.
  If there is some SEO blog that gives the recommendation to advertise
in OSM, and if we could get that page corrected, it would cut off the
idea at the source.

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Re: Help fight advertising

Frederik Ramm
In reply to this post by Ian Dees
Hi,

On 02.03.2018 00:21, Ian Dees wrote:
> I disagree that this is a "fight". Have we attempted to reach out to the
> people running this operation?

I've come across a lot of edits where mappers had written changeset
comments against one of these one-off accounts, and were met with
silence. It's not normally something the individual mapper would
escalate - they write a comment and then forget about it, or simply fix
it themselves after a while.

I have also (sorry for the "lurkers support me in email" argument)
received positive feedback from mappers about my deleting of
advertising; twice, a mapper wrote to me along the lines of: "I've been
annoyed by this for a while but I didn't dare remove it".

> Have we asked the Operations team to
> correlate IP address for the accounts that are created and used once?

I have on occasion done that with my DWG hat on (when there was a
particular flood of such edits) and it was usually possible to identify
an IP address or email domain which was then blocked. However this is
usually doesn't help for long.

I don't think we're dealing with one single opponent here, I think
there's an industry out there, and even if you successfully stop one
firm from harming OSM, there'll be the next one just around the corner.
If you get one to play by the rules, there will be the next one sensing
a business advantage by ignoring the rules. (Or "being disruptive" in
modern speak.)

> Have we looked at what email addresses they use when signing up for
> clues? It would be great to have these folks contributing the
> non-advertising parts in a manner consistent with the rest of the
> community, and perhaps they'd be willing to adjust their practices if we
> are able to ask them.

I don't know. It has never worked when I tried but I might not have
tried hard enough. I think their (and their clients') interests differ
too strongly from ours. Their goal is certainly not making the best map
(or the best geodatabase).

> Also, your characterization of US mappers being more lax about this is a
> little insulting.

The US mappers are not more lax, but there simply are less of them, and
they are concerned with more important things than watching their home
turf for an unwanted item. Combine this with a more intensive spam
activity in the US than elsewhere (some spammers operate world wide but
many seem concentrated on the US even if they hail from non-US IPs) and
you get the current over-abundance of spam in the US. It's not your
fault, and I'm not pointing a finger - I'm asking for help.

There's certainly things that can be done policy-wise, establishing
rules that can then be communicated to those willing to play by them;
the upcoming directed editing policy will be helpful in outlining
acceptable behaviour for groups who wish to contribute business
information. But that's a different activity; the advertising that we
currently have in OSM must be weeded out no matter what.

Bye
Frederik

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Re: Help fight advertising

Frederik Ramm
In reply to this post by Mike N.
Hi,

On 02.03.2018 01:17, Mike N wrote:
> This is a good time to bring up the subject because the recent
> 'locksmith' advertising was most bothersome: partly because the
> locksmith industry as a whole in the US is as shady as you can get while
> being barely legal, and partly because I'm sure the physical locations
> had no relevance; almost no one goes to a 'locksmith shop' to get their
> car door unlocked, and many of them just operate out of their residence.

Yes, the locksmith advertising was one step up again - this wasn't even
"unwanted advertising for a legitimate business" but "unwanted
advertising for a scam". One mapper had verified one of the "local
locksmith" locations in person and found it to be bogus, then called the
telephone number given and was connected to (he said) an "outsourced
answering serivice".

The list I posted does contain a number of businesses that sound a bit
shady - if not outright scams, then at least preying on those in
difficult situations. Loan sharks, lawyers with dubious offers, people
who claim to buy homes for cash and the like. Sometimes it's hard to
tell from the outside.

Bye
Frederik

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Re: Help fight advertising

Jason Remillard
In reply to this post by Frederik Ramm
Hi Frederik


* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view
to detect potential advertising?



Detecting these change sets should be quite straightforward. Here is a Keras sample that could be easily modified to process change sets. The model in this example is tiny and could easily be run over all of the change sets every day with a normal laptop, with no GPU.

https://github.com/keras-team/keras/blob/master/examples/pretrained_word_embeddings.py

The machine learning people are always hungry for more curated datasets.

You have done the hard work already by curating a list of spamy changesets. Make a central place where we could keep a list of changesets that are spam, so that if people are interested in writing a changeset spam detector, the time consuming part is done already.

A github repository with a two CSV file or json file that has the changeset id, and classification. For now (spam, good), and a python script to download the changeset dumps and lookup the age/changeset count of the user into a local directory would be enough.

12455662,spam
12555662,spam
1245155,good

them a

download.py file, downloads and writes out data/spam/xxxx,xml and data/good/xxxx.xml

etc

After we have a bot(s) screening all of the change sets for spam, then many things are possible.

Jason




 

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Re: Help fight advertising

Clifford Snow
In reply to this post by Ian Dees
Sorry for the late posting - I've been working on another project for the past few days. 

Frederik wrote "You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has already crept into OSM."

Unfortunately no, I'm not surprised. Marketing is a very competitive world. SEO firms are using every trick in the dictionary to improve their page ranking. Thanks to the volunteers that maintain our website(s), OSM goes to great pains to insure that every URL we display on our website is followed by a nofollow reference tag. And they have been doing this for years. For those that aren't aware, it's believed that links to your business from authoritative websites increases brings your website closer to the top of searches. OSM.org has a really high authority rating. But now it seems that the nofollow reference tag isn't enough. According to one of the top SEO firms in the US, believe that search engines now look to see if they are on Bing, Yahoo, Google, etc. They believe this not because the big search companies publish this information but from reverse engineering the factors to contribute to ranking.

To me that leaves us with a couple of choices. One, we continue to develop more sophisticated tools to identify and revert the spam or two, we develop tools to help SEO firms add data to OSM in a manner acceptable to us.  Or maybe some of both. Jason Remillard post has some positive recommendation on how to do the first. We should listen to him. One recommendation - make what we do very public. If SEO firms realize that they are wasting money they may stop. Remember they are very good at figuring out how to manipulate search engines. If they can do that, they can figure out how to better mask their edits.

As for the second suggestion, make it easier for SEO firms to add data, we could create a policy and process to accept imports from SEO firms. The other web map sites like Google, Bing, Apple etc. all have a process for bulk loading data. (And none are the same.) We could do something similar. A policy and specialized import guidelines would need to be created. 

Creating a bulk loading policy doesn't mean we don't follow Jason's recommendation for those that don't follow our policy.

One of my beliefs from looking at SEO spam is that I believe the work is likely being outsourced. Two many similarities exist that to me suggest these are coming from a common source.  The user name, the changeset comments, etc. I did ask Margaret Seksinski with Brandity if she could help us learn who might be behind this spam. I have yet to hear from her. Unfortunately, it appears Brandify doesn't want to be a part of the community, just use us for their gains.

Frederik suggested we contact the user. I've sent numerous message and have not only not had any response, but have yet to see any change in their behavior. Frankly it's a waste of my time anymore to attempt to contact them.

As much as I hate the spam in the description tag (should rename it spam=*) it is helpful in attempting to determine the correct tags. After which, it's no longer useful and can be deleted.

Finally let's not lump all SEO firms together. The Laua Group is doing a great job for Hilton Hotels. We should encourage more firms to be good community members.

Best,
Clifford



On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 3:21 PM, Ian Dees <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi Frederik,

I disagree that this is a "fight". Have we attempted to reach out to the people running this operation? Have we asked the Operations team to correlate IP address for the accounts that are created and used once? Have we looked at what email addresses they use when signing up for clues? It would be great to have these folks contributing the non-advertising parts in a manner consistent with the rest of the community, and perhaps they'd be willing to adjust their practices if we are able to ask them.

Also, your characterization of US mappers being more lax about this is a little insulting. OpenStreetMappers in the US spend lots of time looking for this kind of stuff and revert some of the most obvious stuff. Clifford Snow, for example, has spent a lot of time researching who might be behind these edits. I look forward to his feedback here, too.

I appreciate the time you've spent putting together this list of nodes. I'll take a look at some of them, and maybe we can load them into MapRoulette to help work through the list?

-Ian

On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 4:44 PM, Frederik Ramm <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi,

over the past year or so, I have recreationally hunted down advertising
on OSM and removed it. In many cases it's a clear-cut situation (there
were cases where advertising borders on vandalism, with whole streets
being named after a business), but there have also been situations where
a local mapper had diligently copied a business's sales slogan into the
description tag and was then upset to see this removed.

As more and more SEO firms start dumping their stuff onto OSM (and here
I am not talking about those who actually talk to us and listen, but
those who don't care), this is becoming a fight that needs to be fought
by the community as a whole.

With this posting I'd like to start a wider discussion about
advertising; the reason it goes to talk-us is that the USA are more
strongly targeted by SEO companies and at the same time the community
there is still not as big and watchful as in other regions of interest
to spammers, leading to a relatively high volume of unwanted advertising
in the US.


General rant about advertising

I'll make this short as it's likely the most opinionated part of this
message. Advertising illustrates a lot of what has gone wrong in western
societies. There's a war on over attention, and most people are affected
by it throughout their daily lives - even if you run an adblocker, you
won't be immune to the attention-grabbing design of web sites and apps
and games. The films you watch on TV will deliver content that fits
snugly around the ad breaks. Advertising has crept into the home, into
schools and kindergartens. Advertising calls you on the phone.
Advertising's very mission is not to make your life better, but take
your mind away from what matters, and making you want something.
Advertising harms rational thought, self-determination, wellbeing, and
the environment.


Advertising != information

It is information if you say "there's a supermarket here named
so-and-so, and they are open at this time, and this is their telephone
number, and they sell these products". It is advertising if the products
or services are described in a way designed to make this particular
vendor stand out, or designed to make you want to buy. A list of
products or services can already venture into the world of advertising.
Example: "Sells ice cream and milk shakes" - not advertising. "Sells
chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, homegrown blueberry ice cream,
and caramel fudge ice cream" - this is getting dangerously close to
advertising (do you taste it in your mouth already?). "City's premier
spot for delicious organic ice creams, prepared on the premises by our
Italian chef", well.


Rant about advertising in OSM

Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want;
for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to
carry their marketing message across. More precisely, you will usually
have a business crafting a marketing message, asking another business to
"manage their online visibility" for a small fee, and that business then
exploits cheap labour in a sweatshop somewhere on the planet to add the
marketing message to OSM (and Google Plus, and Facebook, and all the
yellow pages they can find). Data added to OSM this way consists of a
factual part (name and type of business, address, opening hours), and an
advertising part (usually in the "note" or "description" tag, and/or in
changeset comments and user profiles).

The advertising part itself has no place in OSM, but even the factual
part is often buggy in a number of ways:

* the address tags don't follow OSM conventions (suite/unit number added
to addr:street, abbreviations in street names)
* the placement of the node is wrong (in the middle of the road,
clustered in the desert or on another continent due to some geocoding
cock-up)
* the placement of the node violates the copyright of whatever gecoder
was used to generate it
* the node doesn't have a tag that describes what it is, in OSM terms
(no "shop" or "amenity" or "office" or anything - or at best some
generic office=company tag)
* the node doesn't actually signify any relevant walk-in business but is
just put there to publish an URL or phone number (witness recent
locksmith scam)
* the node uses other unsuitable tags like "Keywords", "Services
offered", "Category", or incorrect opening hours)

Such advertising is regularly added by accounts created solely for the
purpose of adding one single business, and the accounts will usually
have a name derived directly from the business name, and will never
reply to any attempt at contacting them. In very rare cases it might be
an actual business owner adding themselves to the map, but in the
overwhelming number of cases it's just professional spammers.

Advertising also distorts the quality of OSM. If a mapper maps an area,
they will most likely add *all* doctors they encounter and not just
those who happen to pay money to an online visibility enhancement firm.
If we allow advertisers to flood OSM with POIs, even *if* they had none
of the flaws above, OSM would still lose its appeal of being made by
locals who know best.


What should I do?

Advertising has no place in OSM. If you encounter advertising, you have
a few options:

* Contact the mapper responsible and politely ask them to fix it and/or
stop adding advertising. In most cases, since these are throwaway
accounts created by professional spammers, you won't receive a response
but when in doubt, try it.

* Leave the factual information in place, remove only the advertising. I
recommend to do this only if the factual information seems correct and
meaningful and at the right place; if the factual information is only a
name and an address, ask yourself: Should *you* be the one who completes
the SEO company's job for them, or rather delete the whole business?

* Remove the node altogehter - recommended if the tagging is buggy.

* Use the business contact information provided to call/email them and
ask which SEO firm they have paid to add data to OSM, and explain how
this volunteer project is damaged by the actions of the SEO firm and
that this also tarnishes the business reputation. Recommended if you
like a little fight; some SEO operations have already been stopped from
abusing OSM that way.

* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view
to detect potential advertising?


Examples of advertising in OSM

I've made a list of roughly 1750 nodes in the US, sorted by state, that
look suspiciously like advertising. The list is algorithmically
generated and almost certainly has the odd false positive, where a
mapper simply described where exactly the rare tree is hidden and my
algorithm thought this must be advertising, or where something really is
just a harmless description of products offered. The list is certainly
not exhaustive; I'm sure that using Overpass to search for tell-tale SEO
signs you can come up with may more.

The data is in CSV format with the columns:

date_last_edited,object,created_by,last_edited_by,name,description

If you're in the mood, grab a few and kick out the most outrageous
abuses of OSM. And maybe we can establish ways to make this a habit in
the project. Ideas welcome!

I wanted to include the list here but that would probably have condemned
this message to spam filters, hence:

http://www.remote.org/frederik/tmp/us-seo.txt

You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has
already crept into OSM.

Bye
Frederik

--
Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail [hidden email]  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us


_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us




--
@osm_seattle
OpenStreetMap: Maps with a human touch

_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us
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Open this post in threaded view
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Re: Help fight advertising

Dale Puch
It seems like encouraging SEO firms to operate within OSM guidelines by providing an easy way to add the OSM appropriate information in bulk (with data validation) in one step would be a good thing.  Easier to contact, manage and block or revert as needed.

An idea for catching the throwaway accounts could be a maproulette verification for new user edits?  Or a delayed captcha e-mail challenge for the 1st edits to stay in OSM?

Dale Puch

On Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 12:40 PM, Clifford Snow <[hidden email]> wrote:
Sorry for the late posting - I've been working on another project for the past few days. 

Frederik wrote "You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has already crept into OSM."

Unfortunately no, I'm not surprised. Marketing is a very competitive world. SEO firms are using every trick in the dictionary to improve their page ranking. Thanks to the volunteers that maintain our website(s), OSM goes to great pains to insure that every URL we display on our website is followed by a nofollow reference tag. And they have been doing this for years. For those that aren't aware, it's believed that links to your business from authoritative websites increases brings your website closer to the top of searches. OSM.org has a really high authority rating. But now it seems that the nofollow reference tag isn't enough. According to one of the top SEO firms in the US, believe that search engines now look to see if they are on Bing, Yahoo, Google, etc. They believe this not because the big search companies publish this information but from reverse engineering the factors to contribute to ranking.

To me that leaves us with a couple of choices. One, we continue to develop more sophisticated tools to identify and revert the spam or two, we develop tools to help SEO firms add data to OSM in a manner acceptable to us.  Or maybe some of both. Jason Remillard post has some positive recommendation on how to do the first. We should listen to him. One recommendation - make what we do very public. If SEO firms realize that they are wasting money they may stop. Remember they are very good at figuring out how to manipulate search engines. If they can do that, they can figure out how to better mask their edits.

As for the second suggestion, make it easier for SEO firms to add data, we could create a policy and process to accept imports from SEO firms. The other web map sites like Google, Bing, Apple etc. all have a process for bulk loading data. (And none are the same.) We could do something similar. A policy and specialized import guidelines would need to be created. 

Creating a bulk loading policy doesn't mean we don't follow Jason's recommendation for those that don't follow our policy.

One of my beliefs from looking at SEO spam is that I believe the work is likely being outsourced. Two many similarities exist that to me suggest these are coming from a common source.  The user name, the changeset comments, etc. I did ask Margaret Seksinski with Brandity if she could help us learn who might be behind this spam. I have yet to hear from her. Unfortunately, it appears Brandify doesn't want to be a part of the community, just use us for their gains.

Frederik suggested we contact the user. I've sent numerous message and have not only not had any response, but have yet to see any change in their behavior. Frankly it's a waste of my time anymore to attempt to contact them.

As much as I hate the spam in the description tag (should rename it spam=*) it is helpful in attempting to determine the correct tags. After which, it's no longer useful and can be deleted.

Finally let's not lump all SEO firms together. The Laua Group is doing a great job for Hilton Hotels. We should encourage more firms to be good community members.

Best,
Clifford



On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 3:21 PM, Ian Dees <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi Frederik,

I disagree that this is a "fight". Have we attempted to reach out to the people running this operation? Have we asked the Operations team to correlate IP address for the accounts that are created and used once? Have we looked at what email addresses they use when signing up for clues? It would be great to have these folks contributing the non-advertising parts in a manner consistent with the rest of the community, and perhaps they'd be willing to adjust their practices if we are able to ask them.

Also, your characterization of US mappers being more lax about this is a little insulting. OpenStreetMappers in the US spend lots of time looking for this kind of stuff and revert some of the most obvious stuff. Clifford Snow, for example, has spent a lot of time researching who might be behind these edits. I look forward to his feedback here, too.

I appreciate the time you've spent putting together this list of nodes. I'll take a look at some of them, and maybe we can load them into MapRoulette to help work through the list?

-Ian

On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 4:44 PM, Frederik Ramm <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi,

over the past year or so, I have recreationally hunted down advertising
on OSM and removed it. In many cases it's a clear-cut situation (there
were cases where advertising borders on vandalism, with whole streets
being named after a business), but there have also been situations where
a local mapper had diligently copied a business's sales slogan into the
description tag and was then upset to see this removed.

As more and more SEO firms start dumping their stuff onto OSM (and here
I am not talking about those who actually talk to us and listen, but
those who don't care), this is becoming a fight that needs to be fought
by the community as a whole.

With this posting I'd like to start a wider discussion about
advertising; the reason it goes to talk-us is that the USA are more
strongly targeted by SEO companies and at the same time the community
there is still not as big and watchful as in other regions of interest
to spammers, leading to a relatively high volume of unwanted advertising
in the US.


General rant about advertising

I'll make this short as it's likely the most opinionated part of this
message. Advertising illustrates a lot of what has gone wrong in western
societies. There's a war on over attention, and most people are affected
by it throughout their daily lives - even if you run an adblocker, you
won't be immune to the attention-grabbing design of web sites and apps
and games. The films you watch on TV will deliver content that fits
snugly around the ad breaks. Advertising has crept into the home, into
schools and kindergartens. Advertising calls you on the phone.
Advertising's very mission is not to make your life better, but take
your mind away from what matters, and making you want something.
Advertising harms rational thought, self-determination, wellbeing, and
the environment.


Advertising != information

It is information if you say "there's a supermarket here named
so-and-so, and they are open at this time, and this is their telephone
number, and they sell these products". It is advertising if the products
or services are described in a way designed to make this particular
vendor stand out, or designed to make you want to buy. A list of
products or services can already venture into the world of advertising.
Example: "Sells ice cream and milk shakes" - not advertising. "Sells
chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, homegrown blueberry ice cream,
and caramel fudge ice cream" - this is getting dangerously close to
advertising (do you taste it in your mouth already?). "City's premier
spot for delicious organic ice creams, prepared on the premises by our
Italian chef", well.


Rant about advertising in OSM

Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want;
for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to
carry their marketing message across. More precisely, you will usually
have a business crafting a marketing message, asking another business to
"manage their online visibility" for a small fee, and that business then
exploits cheap labour in a sweatshop somewhere on the planet to add the
marketing message to OSM (and Google Plus, and Facebook, and all the
yellow pages they can find). Data added to OSM this way consists of a
factual part (name and type of business, address, opening hours), and an
advertising part (usually in the "note" or "description" tag, and/or in
changeset comments and user profiles).

The advertising part itself has no place in OSM, but even the factual
part is often buggy in a number of ways:

* the address tags don't follow OSM conventions (suite/unit number added
to addr:street, abbreviations in street names)
* the placement of the node is wrong (in the middle of the road,
clustered in the desert or on another continent due to some geocoding
cock-up)
* the placement of the node violates the copyright of whatever gecoder
was used to generate it
* the node doesn't have a tag that describes what it is, in OSM terms
(no "shop" or "amenity" or "office" or anything - or at best some
generic office=company tag)
* the node doesn't actually signify any relevant walk-in business but is
just put there to publish an URL or phone number (witness recent
locksmith scam)
* the node uses other unsuitable tags like "Keywords", "Services
offered", "Category", or incorrect opening hours)

Such advertising is regularly added by accounts created solely for the
purpose of adding one single business, and the accounts will usually
have a name derived directly from the business name, and will never
reply to any attempt at contacting them. In very rare cases it might be
an actual business owner adding themselves to the map, but in the
overwhelming number of cases it's just professional spammers.

Advertising also distorts the quality of OSM. If a mapper maps an area,
they will most likely add *all* doctors they encounter and not just
those who happen to pay money to an online visibility enhancement firm.
If we allow advertisers to flood OSM with POIs, even *if* they had none
of the flaws above, OSM would still lose its appeal of being made by
locals who know best.


What should I do?

Advertising has no place in OSM. If you encounter advertising, you have
a few options:

* Contact the mapper responsible and politely ask them to fix it and/or
stop adding advertising. In most cases, since these are throwaway
accounts created by professional spammers, you won't receive a response
but when in doubt, try it.

* Leave the factual information in place, remove only the advertising. I
recommend to do this only if the factual information seems correct and
meaningful and at the right place; if the factual information is only a
name and an address, ask yourself: Should *you* be the one who completes
the SEO company's job for them, or rather delete the whole business?

* Remove the node altogehter - recommended if the tagging is buggy.

* Use the business contact information provided to call/email them and
ask which SEO firm they have paid to add data to OSM, and explain how
this volunteer project is damaged by the actions of the SEO firm and
that this also tarnishes the business reputation. Recommended if you
like a little fight; some SEO operations have already been stopped from
abusing OSM that way.

* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view
to detect potential advertising?


Examples of advertising in OSM

I've made a list of roughly 1750 nodes in the US, sorted by state, that
look suspiciously like advertising. The list is algorithmically
generated and almost certainly has the odd false positive, where a
mapper simply described where exactly the rare tree is hidden and my
algorithm thought this must be advertising, or where something really is
just a harmless description of products offered. The list is certainly
not exhaustive; I'm sure that using Overpass to search for tell-tale SEO
signs you can come up with may more.

The data is in CSV format with the columns:

date_last_edited,object,created_by,last_edited_by,name,description

If you're in the mood, grab a few and kick out the most outrageous
abuses of OSM. And maybe we can establish ways to make this a habit in
the project. Ideas welcome!

I wanted to include the list here but that would probably have condemned
this message to spam filters, hence:

http://www.remote.org/frederik/tmp/us-seo.txt

You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has
already crept into OSM.

Bye
Frederik

--
Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail [hidden email]  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us


_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us




--
@osm_seattle
OpenStreetMap: Maps with a human touch

_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us



_______________________________________________
Talk-us mailing list
[hidden email]
https://lists.openstreetmap.org/listinfo/talk-us
Reply | Threaded
Open this post in threaded view
|

Re: Help fight advertising

Alan Richards
I would agree that better tools to help add appropriate information are likely more helpful then trying to police the endless stream of new bad edits. If we can guide these users to a tool that allows adding the information in a constructive manner while restricting the spammy parts that would go a long way to helping. Would a webform with only a limited set of fields be enough? Drag a point, add the address, name, business type, hours and submit.

On Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 1:11 PM, Dale Puch <[hidden email]> wrote:
It seems like encouraging SEO firms to operate within OSM guidelines by providing an easy way to add the OSM appropriate information in bulk (with data validation) in one step would be a good thing.  Easier to contact, manage and block or revert as needed.

An idea for catching the throwaway accounts could be a maproulette verification for new user edits?  Or a delayed captcha e-mail challenge for the 1st edits to stay in OSM?

Dale Puch

On Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 12:40 PM, Clifford Snow <[hidden email]> wrote:
Sorry for the late posting - I've been working on another project for the past few days. 

Frederik wrote "You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has already crept into OSM."

Unfortunately no, I'm not surprised. Marketing is a very competitive world. SEO firms are using every trick in the dictionary to improve their page ranking. Thanks to the volunteers that maintain our website(s), OSM goes to great pains to insure that every URL we display on our website is followed by a nofollow reference tag. And they have been doing this for years. For those that aren't aware, it's believed that links to your business from authoritative websites increases brings your website closer to the top of searches. OSM.org has a really high authority rating. But now it seems that the nofollow reference tag isn't enough. According to one of the top SEO firms in the US, believe that search engines now look to see if they are on Bing, Yahoo, Google, etc. They believe this not because the big search companies publish this information but from reverse engineering the factors to contribute to ranking.

To me that leaves us with a couple of choices. One, we continue to develop more sophisticated tools to identify and revert the spam or two, we develop tools to help SEO firms add data to OSM in a manner acceptable to us.  Or maybe some of both. Jason Remillard post has some positive recommendation on how to do the first. We should listen to him. One recommendation - make what we do very public. If SEO firms realize that they are wasting money they may stop. Remember they are very good at figuring out how to manipulate search engines. If they can do that, they can figure out how to better mask their edits.

As for the second suggestion, make it easier for SEO firms to add data, we could create a policy and process to accept imports from SEO firms. The other web map sites like Google, Bing, Apple etc. all have a process for bulk loading data. (And none are the same.) We could do something similar. A policy and specialized import guidelines would need to be created. 

Creating a bulk loading policy doesn't mean we don't follow Jason's recommendation for those that don't follow our policy.

One of my beliefs from looking at SEO spam is that I believe the work is likely being outsourced. Two many similarities exist that to me suggest these are coming from a common source.  The user name, the changeset comments, etc. I did ask Margaret Seksinski with Brandity if she could help us learn who might be behind this spam. I have yet to hear from her. Unfortunately, it appears Brandify doesn't want to be a part of the community, just use us for their gains.

Frederik suggested we contact the user. I've sent numerous message and have not only not had any response, but have yet to see any change in their behavior. Frankly it's a waste of my time anymore to attempt to contact them.

As much as I hate the spam in the description tag (should rename it spam=*) it is helpful in attempting to determine the correct tags. After which, it's no longer useful and can be deleted.

Finally let's not lump all SEO firms together. The Laua Group is doing a great job for Hilton Hotels. We should encourage more firms to be good community members.

Best,
Clifford



On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 3:21 PM, Ian Dees <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi Frederik,

I disagree that this is a "fight". Have we attempted to reach out to the people running this operation? Have we asked the Operations team to correlate IP address for the accounts that are created and used once? Have we looked at what email addresses they use when signing up for clues? It would be great to have these folks contributing the non-advertising parts in a manner consistent with the rest of the community, and perhaps they'd be willing to adjust their practices if we are able to ask them.

Also, your characterization of US mappers being more lax about this is a little insulting. OpenStreetMappers in the US spend lots of time looking for this kind of stuff and revert some of the most obvious stuff. Clifford Snow, for example, has spent a lot of time researching who might be behind these edits. I look forward to his feedback here, too.

I appreciate the time you've spent putting together this list of nodes. I'll take a look at some of them, and maybe we can load them into MapRoulette to help work through the list?

-Ian

On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 4:44 PM, Frederik Ramm <[hidden email]> wrote:
Hi,

over the past year or so, I have recreationally hunted down advertising
on OSM and removed it. In many cases it's a clear-cut situation (there
were cases where advertising borders on vandalism, with whole streets
being named after a business), but there have also been situations where
a local mapper had diligently copied a business's sales slogan into the
description tag and was then upset to see this removed.

As more and more SEO firms start dumping their stuff onto OSM (and here
I am not talking about those who actually talk to us and listen, but
those who don't care), this is becoming a fight that needs to be fought
by the community as a whole.

With this posting I'd like to start a wider discussion about
advertising; the reason it goes to talk-us is that the USA are more
strongly targeted by SEO companies and at the same time the community
there is still not as big and watchful as in other regions of interest
to spammers, leading to a relatively high volume of unwanted advertising
in the US.


General rant about advertising

I'll make this short as it's likely the most opinionated part of this
message. Advertising illustrates a lot of what has gone wrong in western
societies. There's a war on over attention, and most people are affected
by it throughout their daily lives - even if you run an adblocker, you
won't be immune to the attention-grabbing design of web sites and apps
and games. The films you watch on TV will deliver content that fits
snugly around the ad breaks. Advertising has crept into the home, into
schools and kindergartens. Advertising calls you on the phone.
Advertising's very mission is not to make your life better, but take
your mind away from what matters, and making you want something.
Advertising harms rational thought, self-determination, wellbeing, and
the environment.


Advertising != information

It is information if you say "there's a supermarket here named
so-and-so, and they are open at this time, and this is their telephone
number, and they sell these products". It is advertising if the products
or services are described in a way designed to make this particular
vendor stand out, or designed to make you want to buy. A list of
products or services can already venture into the world of advertising.
Example: "Sells ice cream and milk shakes" - not advertising. "Sells
chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, homegrown blueberry ice cream,
and caramel fudge ice cream" - this is getting dangerously close to
advertising (do you taste it in your mouth already?). "City's premier
spot for delicious organic ice creams, prepared on the premises by our
Italian chef", well.


Rant about advertising in OSM

Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want;
for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to
carry their marketing message across. More precisely, you will usually
have a business crafting a marketing message, asking another business to
"manage their online visibility" for a small fee, and that business then
exploits cheap labour in a sweatshop somewhere on the planet to add the
marketing message to OSM (and Google Plus, and Facebook, and all the
yellow pages they can find). Data added to OSM this way consists of a
factual part (name and type of business, address, opening hours), and an
advertising part (usually in the "note" or "description" tag, and/or in
changeset comments and user profiles).

The advertising part itself has no place in OSM, but even the factual
part is often buggy in a number of ways:

* the address tags don't follow OSM conventions (suite/unit number added
to addr:street, abbreviations in street names)
* the placement of the node is wrong (in the middle of the road,
clustered in the desert or on another continent due to some geocoding
cock-up)
* the placement of the node violates the copyright of whatever gecoder
was used to generate it
* the node doesn't have a tag that describes what it is, in OSM terms
(no "shop" or "amenity" or "office" or anything - or at best some
generic office=company tag)
* the node doesn't actually signify any relevant walk-in business but is
just put there to publish an URL or phone number (witness recent
locksmith scam)
* the node uses other unsuitable tags like "Keywords", "Services
offered", "Category", or incorrect opening hours)

Such advertising is regularly added by accounts created solely for the
purpose of adding one single business, and the accounts will usually
have a name derived directly from the business name, and will never
reply to any attempt at contacting them. In very rare cases it might be
an actual business owner adding themselves to the map, but in the
overwhelming number of cases it's just professional spammers.

Advertising also distorts the quality of OSM. If a mapper maps an area,
they will most likely add *all* doctors they encounter and not just
those who happen to pay money to an online visibility enhancement firm.
If we allow advertisers to flood OSM with POIs, even *if* they had none
of the flaws above, OSM would still lose its appeal of being made by
locals who know best.


What should I do?

Advertising has no place in OSM. If you encounter advertising, you have
a few options:

* Contact the mapper responsible and politely ask them to fix it and/or
stop adding advertising. In most cases, since these are throwaway
accounts created by professional spammers, you won't receive a response
but when in doubt, try it.

* Leave the factual information in place, remove only the advertising. I
recommend to do this only if the factual information seems correct and
meaningful and at the right place; if the factual information is only a
name and an address, ask yourself: Should *you* be the one who completes
the SEO company's job for them, or rather delete the whole business?

* Remove the node altogehter - recommended if the tagging is buggy.

* Use the business contact information provided to call/email them and
ask which SEO firm they have paid to add data to OSM, and explain how
this volunteer project is damaged by the actions of the SEO firm and
that this also tarnishes the business reputation. Recommended if you
like a little fight; some SEO operations have already been stopped from
abusing OSM that way.

* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view
to detect potential advertising?


Examples of advertising in OSM

I've made a list of roughly 1750 nodes in the US, sorted by state, that
look suspiciously like advertising. The list is algorithmically
generated and almost certainly has the odd false positive, where a
mapper simply described where exactly the rare tree is hidden and my
algorithm thought this must be advertising, or where something really is
just a harmless description of products offered. The list is certainly
not exhaustive; I'm sure that using Overpass to search for tell-tale SEO
signs you can come up with may more.

The data is in CSV format with the columns:

date_last_edited,object,created_by,last_edited_by,name,description

If you're in the mood, grab a few and kick out the most outrageous
abuses of OSM. And maybe we can establish ways to make this a habit in
the project. Ideas welcome!

I wanted to include the list here but that would probably have condemned
this message to spam filters, hence:

http://www.remote.org/frederik/tmp/us-seo.txt

You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has
already crept into OSM.

Bye
Frederik

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Re: Help fight advertising

stevea
In reply to this post by Frederik Ramm
Even as I knew my "contact one SEO/Marketing firm, see what happens" approach was quite pedestrian in the grand scheme of "fighting advertising," I still though it valuable to share with the talk-us list so others could experience it too, put on their thinking caps and offer additional approaches.

And we have!  I want to thank everybody for EXCELLENT suggestions on how to better approach (and likely solve) this problem, especially the ones that avoid antagonistic, confrontational and/or harsh behavior and better lead these folks down the garden path of "if you are going to do this, we'll make it EASY for you to do it the RIGHT way."  Awesome, everybody!  Let's keep up the good work and really follow through on these!

SteveA
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Re: Help fight advertising

Mike N.
In reply to this post by Dale Puch
On 3/2/2018 4:11 PM, Dale Puch wrote:
> It seems like encouraging SEO firms to operate within OSM guidelines by
> providing an easy way to add the OSM appropriate information in bulk
> (with data validation) in one step would be a good thing.  Easier to
> contact, manage and block or revert as needed.

   This is a great idea; the biggest problem is the GeoCoder for use
where all addresses haven't yet been entered into OSM.

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Re: Help fight advertising

Frederik Ramm
In reply to this post by stevea
Hi,

On 03/03/2018 12:32 AM, OSM Volunteer stevea wrote:
> Even as I knew my "contact one SEO/Marketing firm, see what happens" approach was quite pedestrian

I'd like to think of your approach - contact the business that is
advertised, through the contact channel they voluntarily publish, and
ask whom they've contracted for advertising - as the "front door"
approach which I find preferable to the "back door" of trawling our logs
for IP numbers and trying to find out who's behind it. Firstly, the
"back door" approach is limited to those in OSM who have the requisite
privileged access; secondly, it is likely to land you with
subcontractors who have little interest in a cooperative future vision
because they're just doing what they are told.

So +1 for more people following the front door approach, and compiling a
list of SEO companies and cataloguing their efforts and reaching out to
them to politely requires compliance. In my opinion, this is something
we should do as a community, locally, and not wait for someone to lead
the effort.

I think that "making it easier for them to conform" should have its
limits in us defining and communicating the envelope of acceptable
contribution. Suggesting that it should be us who develop software or
invest time in curating third-party data sets would sound a bit
disingenious to me; next thing that someone suggests is because we're
doing their work for them we should also charge them? I wouldn't want to
go down that route.

And of course the non-confrontational approach can only ever be the
carrot, and there must be a stick to complement it. For every conformant
SEO company there will be a dozen who try to game the system, because
gaming systems is their core business, that's what they do with Google &
Co.; and even if we found some way to keep more advertising from
entering OSM, there's several thousand advertising POIs in OSM in the US
alone and they won't magically go away. So let's roll up our sleeves and
get to work.

Bye
Frederik

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Re: Help fight advertising

Clifford Snow
In reply to this post by Mike N.

On Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 3:35 PM, Mike N <[hidden email]> wrote:
On 3/2/2018 4:11 PM, Dale Puch wrote:
It seems like encouraging SEO firms to operate within OSM guidelines by providing an easy way to add the OSM appropriate information in bulk (with data validation) in one step would be a good thing.  Easier to contact, manage and block or revert as needed.

  This is a great idea; the biggest problem is the GeoCoder for use where all addresses haven't yet been entered into OSM.

We would need terms and conditions that the vendor agree too, the geocoder would be one, agreeing that the data they are uploading would licensed ODbL is another. 

 

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Re: Help fight advertising

Paul Johnson-3
In reply to this post by Clifford Snow
On Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 11:40 AM, Clifford Snow <[hidden email]> wrote:
To me that leaves us with a couple of choices. One, we continue to develop more sophisticated tools to identify and revert the spam or two, we develop tools to help SEO firms add data to OSM in a manner acceptable to us.  Or maybe some of both. Jason Remillard post has some positive recommendation on how to do the first. We should listen to him. One recommendation - make what we do very public. If SEO firms realize that they are wasting money they may stop. Remember they are very good at figuring out how to manipulate search engines. If they can do that, they can figure out how to better mask their edits.

My vote is both.  Obviously the way things are now, they're not right, but they're not exactly wrong, either.  Particularly in the US, where address data is a real pain in the butt to acquire (and something I recently posted extensively about, and I'm pretty certain I've covered here as well already).  The biggest problems I see with SEO spam is that the tag values often don't conform to any accepted convention (phone numbers, opening hours, and amenity=* or shop=* tags seem especially problematic), and description=* or note=* getting used for really smarmy ad copy, and using a geocoder referencing a potentially copyrighted dataset we don't have a license to use.
 
As for the second suggestion, make it easier for SEO firms to add data, we could create a policy and process to accept imports from SEO firms. The other web map sites like Google, Bing, Apple etc. all have a process for bulk loading data. (And none are the same.) We could do something similar. A policy and specialized import guidelines would need to be created. 

I'm OK with this.  I think two rules definitely should be included as minimums:
  1. All SEO edits from such companies must come from clearly identified accounts.
  2. These accounts must be responsive to comments via the message system and changeset comments.
I think we're all in agreement the level of communication we're getting with the flood of one-off SEO accounts is, to put it generously, terrible.

One of my beliefs from looking at SEO spam is that I believe the work is likely being outsourced. Two many similarities exist that to me suggest these are coming from a common source.  The user name, the changeset comments, etc. I did ask Margaret Seksinski with Brandity if she could help us learn who might be behind this spam. I have yet to hear from her. Unfortunately, it appears Brandify doesn't want to be a part of the community, just use us for their gains.
 
If they don't want to play ball, then how about redirecting their entire IP space to a message explaining our concerns, so it can't be ignored?

As much as I hate the spam in the description tag (should rename it spam=*) it is helpful in attempting to determine the correct tags. After which, it's no longer useful and can be deleted.

Not a bad option.  Maybe document that in the wiki?
 
Finally let's not lump all SEO firms together. The Laua Group is doing a great job for Hilton Hotels. We should encourage more firms to be good community members.

Hip hop hooray!  Granted, though, we can't reasonably expect them to police the entire industry on our database.

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Re: Help fight advertising

Paul Norman
In reply to this post by Clifford Snow
On 3/2/2018 9:40 AM, Clifford Snow wrote:
> Sorry for the late posting - I've been working on another project for
> the past few days.
>
> Frederik wrote "You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing
> blurb that has already crept into OSM."
>
> Unfortunately no, I'm not surprised. Marketing is a very competitive
> world. SEO firms are using every trick in the dictionary to improve
> their page ranking.

True, those experienced with SEO firms are probably not surprised.

> One of my beliefs from looking at SEO spam is that I believe the work
> is likely being outsourced. Two many similarities exist that to me
> suggest these are coming from a common source.  The user name, the
> changeset comments, etc. I did ask Margaret Seksinski with Brandity if
> she could help us learn who might be behind this spam. I have yet to
> hear from her. Unfortunately, it appears Brandify doesn't want to be a
> part of the community, just use us for their gains.

With my DWG hat on I've seen some investigations into some cases. Much
of what I've seen comes from a number of overseas sources, and there's
probably a disconnect between the firms people pay and who spams the data.

>
> Frederik suggested we contact the user. I've sent numerous message and
> have not only not had any response, but have yet to see any change in
> their behavior. Frankly it's a waste of my time anymore to attempt to
> contact them.
>
> As much as I hate the spam in the description tag (should rename it
> spam=*) it is helpful in attempting to determine the correct tags.
> After which, it's no longer useful and can be deleted.

At this point I generally don't do that, I end up deleting the spam.
With the location frequently sourced from Google's geocoder, it's
unusable, many of the businesses don't have physical locations and don't
belong in OSM, and the users are consistently uncommunicative.

> Finally let's not lump all SEO firms together. The Laua Group is doing
> a great job for Hilton Hotels. We should encourage more firms to be
> good community members.

There are some reputable SEO firms. Unfortunately, the industry tends to
attract disreputable ones. The disreputable ones are unlikely to follow
rules. Remember, this is an industry where disreputable companies still
flood comments sections, user profiles, and anything else they can
imagine with spam. If they're fine with breaking anti-spam laws, terms
of service, and other rules, I can't see them following either OSMF
policies or community expectations, so we shouldn't gear our work around
them doing that.

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Re: Help fight advertising

stevea
In reply to this post by Frederik Ramm
So many good things being said by so many good people here.  This is OSM at its best:  organically growing goodness and correct actions by right-thinking people.  Be bold, we might say out loud, as in "I delete spam and even just plain bad mapping when and as I see it."  (Whether front door, back door, with the help of our fellow mappers at a Mapping Party...whatever).  Thanks to all who say and do that!  "Right mapping" is attitude as much as action.

Taking either/or approaches is something we acknowledge as short(er)-sighted; a multi-pronged approach including everyman/pedestrian works (like my example), as well as the kinds of "some investigations" that Paul mentions – there truly are bad actors to whom we must apply our realistic and efficient repairs.  Smart behavior (analytics log analysis, similar/usual white-hat tools) can complement "bread crumb trails to do the right things" approaches, too.  (Good dialog happens!)  Wiki as I suggested of a regional flavor (let's start with USA) of an "anti-spam/SEO, vandalism skill-building strategies..." is possible, similar to what we're saying here, but "sticks to the wall a bit more, wiki-searchable by those looking for it."  As will individuals with pride in making and keeping our map as spic-and-span as we can.  (The core of why "let's everybody keep it nice and clean around here" works).  ALL of the above and even more as we develop these strategies.  It's very much like cooperative folks living together someplace agreeing to do the cleanup chores in as smart and efficient way as we can.  As, that is what successful projects like ours do:  cool heads prevail.  What a great dialog, even feels a bit historical/epic.  OSM is fantastic, like Rosie the Riveter swinging her fist, "We can do this."

Curating this discussion to wiki doesn't seem a lengthy task.  Might we see a WikiProject USA/Help fight advertising emerge?

SteveA

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