[Talk-us] Help fight advertising

Clifford Snow clifford at snowandsnow.us
Fri Mar 2 17:40:59 UTC 2018

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

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.


On Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 3:21 PM, Ian Dees <ian.dees at gmail.com> 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 <frederik at remote.org> 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 frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"
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