[Talk-us] Help fight advertising

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Thu Mar 1 22:44:44 UTC 2018


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
* 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:


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:


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


Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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