OpenStreetMap

Improving the Behavior of Search Engine Optimizer (SEO) Companies

Posted by PeanutButterRemedy on 30 April 2019 in English (English). Last updated on 1 May 2019.

Background

There exists at least one company out there that sells a service of boosting client company’s ranking in Google search results. One of the tactics they employ to accomplish this is putting the company name and website in as many places as they can. One of those places is a node on OpenStreetMap. It should be pointed out that there is nothing inherently wrong about adding this information to OSM. In fact, it is encouraged. However, the methods by which this particular company accomplishes this go against many of the best practices and guidelines that the community has set forth. This has caused much frustration in the community having to chase down their edits and correct them. Many attempts have been made to contact this company to work with them to correct their behavior, but they have all fallen on deaf ears.

Bad Behavior

Some of the actions the SEO has engaged in include the following:

  • Creating throw-away OSM accounts for every single edit they make
  • Registering accounts with email addresses that are ignored
  • Using email addresses that purposefully hide the organization that created the accounts
  • Spoofing or masking their IP addresses

These are all tactics they are using to avoid user and IP level blocks so that they can continue to pump bad data into OSM without being blocked.

Bad Data

A sampling of their additions shows the following type of problems:

  • Street addresses that are abbreviated (Rd vs. Road, St vs. Street)
  • Unit/Suite information improperly added to addr:street
  • Freeform text in the opening_hours tag
  • Upper case characters in key names (Telephone vs. phone)
  • Made up tags instead of proper feature tags (category=Southwest Furniture vs. shop=furniture)
  • Lazy errors (amenity=place_of_worship for a fish restaurant)

While it might be easy to suggest that we should just fix these up for them, I would say that is something I and others are happy to do for new mappers that need a hand, but for a company that “contributes” and has done thousands of additions, it is something they should learn and do correctly from the start.

Communication Failures

The list of attempts at correcting these behaviors is long.

  1. Changeset comments
  2. Tweets to the company CEO
  3. Phone calls to the sales team
  4. Escalations through the sales team to upper management
  5. Messaging through LinkedIn to engineering contacts

These have all resulted in stonewalling or radio silence.

Remedies

For the time being, the next step (with blessing from the DWG) is to revert these additions manually. I have some software that looks through changes for some obvious patterns of abuse and marks these nodes for deletion. The goal is to get the SEO to come to the table and start a discussion.

FAQ

Q: Are you saying that SEOs should be banned from contributing to OSM?
A: Absolutely not. There is no reason that SEOs that are well behaved should not be able to contribute to OSM. In fact, I think they should be encouraged. They have the potential of being an asset and valued contributors.

Q: Why don’t you just leave their additions alone and correct the data?
A: There is no excuse for experienced mappers making simple errors time and time again. There is no reason that they can’t be taught and follow the easiest of guidelines. For them to dump bad data on the map and expect others to clean it up for them is inexcusable.

Q: You deleted XYZ, Inc. Was that a false positive?
A: I believe that I’ve only made a single false positive out of the first ~150 deletions, and that was only because I fat fingered a command. If something looks mostly correct, or even 100% correct, it might be because everything about the node addition leads me to believe it is by the SEO and the purpose of deleting it is to get the attention of the SEO so that we can finally discuss the issues.

Q: Can I add the business you deleted back to the map? I’m not an SEO.
A: Certainly. (Assuming you are trying to follow best practices, your re-addition of the business with correct information and format and style would be appreciated.)

Q: What makes you think a particular addition is from the SEO?
A: At this point in time, I’m keeping the detection methodology secret to prevent them from further gaming the system without addressing the root problems.

Q: Are you going to delete all objects that have simple misspellings or abbreviations?
A: Of course not. New users don’t know all of the intricacies and even seasoned users will sometimes make errors or typos. The difference here is that the latter will be responsive to changeset discussions and are generally happy to learn, while the former purposefully ignores comments and refuses to engage or change their behavior.

Q: Are you going this across the entire globe?
A: No, just the United States. I’m not sure yet if this SEO company makes edits beyond the U.S., but I’m only concentrating on U.S. based changes.

Q: Will you expand this eventually to the entire globe?
A: No. If someone else wants to do something similar for their region, I’d be happy to share more about what I’ve learned, but I have no desire to do the work myself.

Comment from Wynndale on 30 April 2019 at 20:00

What time of day do they contribute? We may be able to guess their timezone that way.

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 30 April 2019 at 20:08

@Wynndale: I should have put FAQ #5 at the top. The first rule of SEO detection is we do not talk about SEO detection! ;-) But yes, you’re right on the money with your guess. They come from UTC+0300 assuming a 9-5 work day. The headquarters are in SoCal, but my guess is they farm out editing to Russia.

Comment from alexkemp on 30 April 2019 at 21:18

Hi. You write:

There is no reason that SEOs that are well behaved should not be able to contribute to OSM.

That is an oxymoron. There are NO well-behaved SEO companies.

I am a moderator at StopForumSpam and ran a website with a forum full-time for 15 years. SFS was the only reason I was able to continue, as my site was drowning in spam soon after starting.

There are three main sources of spam:

  1. Bots such as xrumer
  2. Cheap humans (from cheap-labour countries)
  3. Owners/admin that do not care & let it all happen

The first has to be handled with automation, in which SFS can play a part.
The second can be stopped with SFS once they are in the database, although some will always get through.
You cannot fix stupid.

SFS uses a crowd-sourced database to store username/email-address/ip of spammers. Forum owners then use pre-written plugins that interrogate the SFS API to reject known spammers. To be effective the admin need to:–

  1. Insist on email verification (and hopefully deny throwaway domains themselves)
  2. Use firewall hygiene to deny bot scraping
    (in my day very difficult as Google was one of the top speed scapers)
  3. Use IP to deny toxic ASN via RBL sites
  4. Use email to deny via SFS
  5. There are then a vast number of house-hygiene rules to follow:

    • no profile editing privilege until 10+ diary posts
    • no diary editing privilege until 10+ diary posts
    • no links allowed at all until 10+ diary posts
    • ‘hello, nice to be here’ posts ruthlessly deleted
    • and so on & on
  6. Finally, and most important, spammers should be reported to SFS. They are then blocked worldwide by every forum that uses SFS. And you will never see them again.

This year was the first year that spammers did not deluge the SFS forum pages. Yes, it has taken 20 years for SFS to fight the spammers on it’s pages to a standstill.

Comment from Rovastar on 30 April 2019 at 21:59

I must say I am struggling to see why these edits are bad.

“Street addresses that are abbreviated (Rd vs. Road, St vs. Street) Unit/Suite information improperly added to addr:street Freeform text in the opening_hours tag Upper case characters in key names (Telephone vs. phone)’ These seem petty reasons to delete an edit.

Do you go around deleting all data anyone adds that has Rd vs Road? Or has the wrong capitalization of a tag? What is next you want to delete all users data they added for 1 typo? Maybe I should go through all your edit and look for anything that is wrong and I’ll revert it.

So I have not been convinced this is a problem here. The real question is are they adding real businesses? If so they should stay. That info is better than no info at all.

And just to be clear you are proposing to delete (revert) these entries for slightly incorrect capital letters? That is crazy. I would be for a bot to correct them but not wipe them off the map. In fact I class your proposed actions as vandalism. Do I need to contact DWG for your actions?!

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 30 April 2019 at 22:52

@Rovastar: I hear what you’re saying. And yes, they do seem like petty reasons if you were to look at just a single contribution. But step back and look at the bigger picture and you see a pattern of wanton abuse. Of course I don’t go around deleting all data from someone that is new that misuses “Rd”, or someone that accidentally does so. But a company that adds thousands of nodes, refuses to follow up on comments, actively avoids detection and communication is a different thing.

I wouldn’t mind if you actively went through my edits and looked for anything that is wrong. I’d hope you’d have the decency of notifying me first and give me a chance to respond and I’d either discuss it with you calmly if I disagreed or I’d fix it and thank you for pointed out my mistake. That isn’t what is happening here. As I said, many, many attempts have been made to communicate and they’ve refused, even if to disagree and explain why they are doing what they’re doing.

You are more than welcome to bring the DWG into this if you think it is vandalism. I’ve already discussed the situation with them though and they are aware of the issue and support what I’m doing. I also welcome you to bring this to various forums and broaden the discussion.

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 30 April 2019 at 22:55

@alexkemp: Thanks for the perspective. Maybe some day OSM will develop the tools to allow better banning of “bad actors” and this problem will reduced to a trickle. There was a time that I thought we’d never see the end of email spam, but that problem is essentially solved today. And it looks like your battle with forum spam has reached a tipping point in your favor.

Comment from Rovastar on 30 April 2019 at 23:10

Fine I have reported you.

You are deleting entries for trivial reasons.

I didn’t realise you entire reason for you being on Openstreetmap is to have edits delete valid data.

I picked this one at random

https://www.openstreetmap.org/node/6435253775/history

And you deleted it for putting Rd rater than Road.

This is the wrong approach especially for a “mapper” of only 6 days who just deletes things.

Comment from Rovastar on 30 April 2019 at 23:12

Now it seems I have to revert all your hundred plus “edits”. Geez what a troll you are.

Comment from Glassman on 30 April 2019 at 23:41

@Rovastar - I have to disagree with your action. I’m guessing you don’t live in the US and see these edits all the time. I’ve fixed a few but lately I’ve given up - too much work. The SEO contractor obviously doesn’t care about OSM. They just want to get $$ for spamming as many sites as they can.

Let me add that they don’t follow the Directed Edits policy - Not even close. If they did they would answer messages and changeset comments. They don’t. And so they aren’t block by DWG because they create a new account every time.

Also let me add, since you don’t appear to be from the US, don’t appear to be on our mailing list, yet you revert edits in a distant country, I find your actions unacceptable.

Please do the right thing and un-revert your edit.

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 30 April 2019 at 23:52

@Rovastar: I am not a mapper of only 6 days, of course. I’m doing this work under a separate account for two purposes: first to keep my main account uncluttered with this work, and second to isolate myself from a potentially vindictive company that has demonstrated they don’t play by the rules, and one that has ties to in all likelihood, Russia. I have been mapping for over 2 years now and have thousands of edits and have “seen” a large part of this country and have a reasonable idea of what is acceptable and what isn’t. I’m sorry that you think of me as just a troll instead of someone that is trying to make OSM a better and more trusted place.

If you somehow convince DWG that my work here is vandalism, of course I’ll do the right thing and revert my changes. That isn’t something that you’d have to be bothered with. I’m a “good citizen” of our community and respect discussions and consensus decisions. I find it odd that you’re fighting against someone trying to do good in favor of someone clearly trying to make a buck off of OSM.

Comment from Rovastar on 1 May 2019 at 00:03

@glassman, The poster is an obvious troll here. Only creating his account a few days ago (likely using a bot/program do these deletions (also not i the spirit of any guidelines here)) for the sole reason to delete legitimate edits all because they have a minor typo in them. At what is worse they boast about it here.

I see nothing to say these are a breaking the organized editing guidelines (I think you meant), no evidence, They are valid edits that anyone could make for a small business, they are from different accounts, etc.

I have look a few of these edits and the all look like legitimate places. Some have active facebook pages, many other sources you can prove they are real location and they are now I don’t understand why deleting them for Rd vs road is valid reason at all.

It doesn’t matter if I am in the US or not. Or if it is small person wanting to post there details to gain the system by adding their info to the map. You must be new here as we actually want people to add stuff to the map. If you continue to have that attitude in the US where only established user are allow to add to the map then it is going to take ages to get a decent map.

Please do the right thing and not pander to this troll who delete stuff based on Rd versus Road.

If the places did not exist thenb no problem but they all some to and have added decent info about them.

Comment from Rovastar on 1 May 2019 at 00:17

@PeanutButterRemedy

I only have your word that you are a regular mapper obviously this account does not say that. It says 6 days old and all you do is delete legitimate looking data, If you have additional accounts for doing things like this you should have information in there about it explaining who you are and what you are doing.

Why not just correct the information if typos bother you so much? I don’t understand why you want to delete this valuable information from openstreetmap. Why do you not correct the info if it is wrong?!

When I think of SEO gaining the system it is nodes that city=BuyViagraOnlineFromMeSpammer.com I don’t understand how this gains the system. Legit businesses being added to the correct locations the map. Even if it is SEO (far from clear infact very unclear) it all seems valid info.

I want to encourage business to add themselves to openstreetmap. You seem to set the bar so high it is becoming impossible to businesses to add themselves to it.

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 1 May 2019 at 01:12

@Rovastar I think it does matter whether you are in the US or not. Many people in the “local” community of mappers (those in the US) are aware of the scale of this one particular company and have desired something be done about it for a long time now. There is a strong precedence of local community guidelines and standards having a heavier impact on decisions. I’m not ignoring your input, it is appreciated, but I think the locals are far more familiar with what is going on and how it affects us.

I’m not sure how you see this as a “troll” and I’m certainly not “boasting” about it here, but instead trying to explain what is going on so that others can understand the background/history and get a better picture of the actions that are being taken.

Comment from Karthoo on 1 May 2019 at 08:37

@Rovastar I have to agree with PeanutButterRemedy. These SEO edits (they definitely are) are not really an improvement to OSM. The nodes they add to our database are of really poor quality, because most of them are at wrong locations and don’t have primary tags like shop, amenity or office. The other tags also include errors very often, as PBR said in his blog. So every SEO edit (~20-40 per day, each with a new account) has to be reviewed. They can be easily recognized by generic changeset titles like ‘updated’ and the user’s names are the same as the company names. That does not mean that the specific company added their business themselves to the map, they probably never heard of OSM.

Me and a few other users have been cleaning up such edits for several years now and the SEO companies won’t stop adding their rubbish. I think that this has to change and since the SEO companies don’t react to our inquiries, trying to get in contact with them the hard way may not be the worst option.

Comment from Rovastar on 1 May 2019 at 17:56

Sorry I am still really struggling to see how these are “bad” edit and not an improvement to OSM.

Hundreds of business POIs have been deleted here it seem (from the ones I have looked at) a very simple typo.

Take (as a typical example) thsi one

https://www.openstreetmap.org/node/6435212734/history

It was posted will what look like good tags

Phone +1 908-362-1600 Website http://donnasrunwaycafe.com addr:city Blairstown addr:housenumber 36 addr:postcode 07825 addr:state NJ addr:street Lambert Rd. amenity restaurant name Donna’s Runway Cafe

Apart from Rd. instead of Road for addr:street

This seems a real place. You can google it for yourself. They have a real looking facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Restaurant/Donnas-Runway-Cafe-1496617950597201/ etc Are you saying that this business is not real and part of some spam/SEO conspiracy? All the links about it are fake news? If so can you provide some evidence for this?

If not and the business is real then what are you objecting to? Someone putting Rd instead of Road?! Surely you can just correct that information instead of deleting it.

I just don’t understand how it is spam/not useful information here if it is a real place. Does the phone number goto a spam hotline or something which is not the business and they try and sell you something?

Are you checking the locations for these by hand?! And a high percentage of them are very wrong (by KM not cm)? I honestly don’t see from the ones I have looked at bad data here it sounds like you have crazy barriers of entry taht you are trying to police here where anything that is not completely perfect you want to delete.

I am honestly baffled by your stance it looks very useful information and you are just deleting it. Waiting for DWG to chime in.

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 1 May 2019 at 20:11

I doubt at this point there is anything that can be said to convince you. You are looking at individual records and refuse to step back and see the bigger picture of thousands of edits that are dumped on us to chase around and fix. It isn’t just that a single record has an abbreviation and is therefore is deleted. It is the SEO company has been asked over and over and over again to improve their behavior and they refuse to listen and adapt or even reply and tell us why they won’t change. That is the behavior that is trying to be corrected, not the fact that you look at records individually and say they each have valid, if slightly wrong, data. If the local community feels as strongly as you do, or if the DWG changes their stance, I’ll back off. Until then, please respect that this is something the locals agree with.

Comment from alexkemp on 1 May 2019 at 20:49

The problem, PeanutButterRemedy, is that you do not offer any firm evidence that these map additions are abusive.

Bad Behaviour:

  • throw-away OSM accounts for every single edit
  • non-verified email addresses
  • working email addresses unconnected to creation organisation
  • VPN IP addresses (it is not possible to ‘spoof’ an IP address)

Either these need to be fixed at the operation or administrative end of OSM, or ignored. I have not yet heard that any of them are a reason for denying access (please give the link if procedures have changed). And do not misunderstand me - I would encourage OSM to make their inverse a requirement for signing up. Indeed, I thought that the first two were requirements, and cannot understand anyone being allowed to create disposable OSM accounts. However, if OSM allows it, then it is NOT bad behaviour.

Bad Data:

(a list of edits that 90% of all mappers create at one time or another)

Your list of ‘bad data’ is simply laughable. Tell us your real OSM name & I will find a ton of bad edits of this type from you. Your entire assertion falls flat on it’s face at this point.

Communication Failures:

This is your strongest assertion. However, without valid bad data it does not count. We are looking for folks that pollute the map with malicious edits, not folks that cannot spel.

Try to remember the lesson of the Witchfinder General; in the end he declared himself to be a witch. And you, sir, look very much to be causing malicious harm to OSM.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 2 May 2019 at 08:19

VPN IP addresses (it is not possible to ‘spoof’ an IP address)

Using VPN address (or Tor) are common methods of spoofing IP address to avoid IP bans.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 2 May 2019 at 08:28

@PeanutButterRemedy Thanks you for doing this! Yes, newbies can make mistakes. But someone hired to make edits should not be allowed to leave such mess for cleanup.

Such broken edits are not helpful at all.

(a list of edits that 90% of all mappers create at one time or another)

Certainly some of my edits were worse. Much, much worse. But overall effect was positive. Creating hundreds of throwaway accounts is not something that allows you to make hundreds edits and claim for each “that is my first edit, I may make some mistakes”.

Sorry I am still really struggling to see how these are “bad” edit and not an improvement to OSM.

The problem is that someone is making hundreds of such edits. OSM mappers are not obligated to fix bad data, it is perfectly fine to delete SEO spam or low quality import data that makes real mapping harder.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 2 May 2019 at 08:29

@PeanutButterRemedy

“A: At this point in time, I’m keeping the detection methodology secret to prevent them from further gaming the system without addressing the root problems.” - have you shared your methods with DWG? This way in future others will not need to write code of a detector from scratch.

Comment from woodpeck on 2 May 2019 at 08:46

With my DWG hat on, we expect mappers to communicate with the community, at least when they’re asked a question. If you create your account with a throwaway email address but still manage to notice when someone comments on your changeset or messages you in OSM, that’s fine. If you don’t, then DWG will block you after a while, not because you’re bad but because we assume that you must have overlooked people trying to get in touch. If you then continue mapping without communication then you’re likely to be blocked for longer. If you then start creating new accounts to circumvent the block, you have firmly painted yourself in the “bad actors” corner.

I think there is ample evidence that all the accounts being targeted here are indeed controlled by the same entity which is not playing by our rules (in more than one way). They must be treated as one entity, not as hundreds of innocent newbie mappers.

I am not aware of any mapper-to-mapper interaction with any of the accounts being discussed here. If anyone manages to raise any of these accounts and talk to them, explain to them that we have certain minimal quality expectations (like e.g. actually looking when you place a POI, and finding the right tags for a POI instead of just spamming the map with names, etc.) then that would be a very positive step.

Comment from alexkemp on 2 May 2019 at 09:20

Mateusz Konieczny:

VPN IP addresses (it is not possible to ‘spoof’ an IP address)

Using VPN address (or Tor) are common methods of spoofing IP address to avoid IP bans.

That is a method of hiding the originating address, it does not spoof it. Any webmaster can discover current sources of VPN, or Tor, so they can know when an access IP is being cloaked.

As I understand it, using VPN or Tor to access OSM is NOT a reason for banning users.

So, we are back to PeanutButterRemedy becoming a freelance grammar vigilante, viciously removing edits for bad etiquette, and using every method used by malicious actors to achieve their ends (hiding their name & methods, using a search-bot, unaccountable to anyone…). I bet their costume has a skull & crossbones on it.

Comment from SomeoneElse on 2 May 2019 at 10:38

I am not aware of any mapper-to-mapper interaction with any of the accounts being discussed here.

The only reply from an affected account that I can see is at https://www.openstreetmap.org/changeset/68807119 which is the false positive mentioned above, and I don’t think we can fault @PeanutButterRemedy’s interaction there. I’d agree with woodpeck that “they must be treated as one entity, not as hundreds of innocent newbie mappers”. In each case the accounts are asked “If this is not the case, please comment and we can help restore your addition”, and none have.

There are lots of business owners who add their businesses to OSM, and lots of larger chains who take care to ensure that their addresses and other details are updated. None of the removals that I can see here seem to fall into that category.

How to deal with low-quality additions is really a question for the local community (in this case across the US). If anyone locally wants to verify the visibility of these businesses on the street they’re entirely free to do so - and I’m sure that they can do lots of other mapping while they’re there!

Best Regards, Andy (like woodpeck, also from the DWG)

Comment from SimonPoole on 2 May 2019 at 11:12

IMHO given that they have a longish history of vandalism in the mean time, I don’t quite see why we (as in the OSMF) don’t send them a cease and desist and if they don’t stop, drive them out of business (they are at least pro-forma incorporated in the US).

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 2 May 2019 at 16:41

@Mateusz Konieczny: DWG is aware of some of my detection methods, but I have made a few enhancements since then. I shouldn’t have said that I wanted to keep it “secret” exactly. More appropriately I don’t want to widely announce it and make it easier for an SEO to evade detection while still contributing junk.

@alexkemp: not sure why you’re down in the weeds arguing about “spoofing IP addresses”. Yes, I understand how IP works. I didn’t feel it was necessary for a networking class explaining the inner workings. The point is, the company directing these changes is purposefully evading detection/blocking by using a disjoint set of IP addresses that can’t be blocked, just as their user accounts can’t be blocked. Maybe it’s VPN, Tor, open proxies, EC2 instances and the like, or Mechanical Turk. I don’t have access to that data. But that’s not the point.

I bet [PBR’s] costume has a skull & crossbones on it. https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem

@woodpeck: I’ve made a last, best effort, attempt to contact an engineering manager at the SEO company though a mutual LinkedIn connection. I know that he read the message because he checked out my LinkedIn profile on Monday morning. I haven’t heard back from him and will attempt to phone him this coming Monday.

Comment from SimonPoole on 2 May 2019 at 17:32

@alexkemp & @Rovastar just to reinforce the statements by woodpeck and SomeoneElse: it is well established (since end of 2017) who’s behind these edits, they are clearly in violation of our ToU by creating fake user accounts, and on top it their edits are rubbish (that they haven’t even bothered to take note that they might need to add an actual object tag says all). So that you can put it in to relation: they create the majority of new accounts in the US.

@alexkemp btw, you are required to provide a valid working e-mail address as part of the sign up process and need to keep it current, we do not allow anonymous editing (since over a decade now).

Comment from alexkemp on 2 May 2019 at 21:03

Simon Poole:

you are required to provide a valid working e-mail address as part of the sign up process and need to keep it current, we do not allow anonymous editing (since over a decade now)

Thanks for confirming that, Simon; that is exactly what I thought to be the case.

English irony is not very understandable by other countries, is it? I will try to drop it for the rest of this comment.

Viewed from a distance it seems that PeanutButterRemedy believes that the DWG are not doing their job, and that therefore he needs to step in as some sort of vigilante to fill in the cracks of DWG’s poor job. The fact that he does this by deleting edits that contain “Rd” instead of “Road” or “St” instead of “Street” is what has caused my response. Such an action is beyond irony.

Comment from Glassman on 2 May 2019 at 21:26

@alexkemp - I can’t speak for PeanutButterRemedy but none us of believe that DWG is not doing their job. This offender is doing everything they can to avoid being blocked from OSM. While, maybe not exactly everything, if they were doing everything they could, they would fix their tagging.

Here is a edit from today. They used a tag Hours with values that can’t be simply parsed into a proper opening hours tag. They use an abbreviation for street and a spam description tag, phone number not properly formatted and no tag to describe the business. None of those in themselve is all that terrible. If it was a new user I would help them fix it. But this group just ignores our comments. Which in this case is ironic because they asked for a review of the edit.

I watch every new edit in the State of Washington. I’ve given up wasting my time trying to fix their edits. I’ve reached out to the management of the company with no response. I’ve contact their customers to no avail. I’ve tweeted unfavorable comments on their Twitter account. Nothing gets their attention.

I applaud PeanutButterRemedy for stepping up to fix this nationwide. Maybe once this SEO firm realizes that they are paying for something of no value, they’ll finally contact us for help or at least stop adding spam to OSM.

One last thing. Many of their customers are businesses that are run out of their home. The SEO places the node on the home which to me implies that I can walk up to the house and ring the door bell. I doubt most of their home business customers would want that.

Best, Clifford

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 2 May 2019 at 21:44

I’m officially done responding to @Rovastar and @alexkemp. I have nothing more to say to either of them. I suggest others follow my lead (at least on this topic).

Comment from SomeoneElse on 3 May 2019 at 10:01

Maybe once this SEO firm realizes that they are paying for something of no value, they’ll finally contact us for help or at least stop adding spam to OSM.

I’m guessing that the customers are actually paying for a package that includes Google search results position, placement on Google maps etc. and in many cases won’t actually know what OSM even is. I also suspect that the perpetrators here don’t care that their data additions are getting removed from OSM, since by that time they’ve already been paid.

It’s a bit like if a strange cat keeps making a mess in your garden - you can try and talk to the owner, but it’s a waste fo time trying to discuss it with the cat. You also still have to clean up the mess.

Comment from freebeer on 3 May 2019 at 13:10

Moin GroundRoastNuts,

You write of your country focus. After two months offline, I return to see that of english-speaking countries, australia seems to be hard-hit by Notes spammage.

And in fact, it seems edits matching your criteria do happen without the US of A (Canada should also catch my eye) revealed by the futile commentary to

https://www.openstreetmap.org/changeset/69791753

I do not pay attention to much of anything, but that caught me eye.

Carry On Cancelling

Comment from woodpeck on 3 May 2019 at 13:31

The Australian POI is interesting in that it was added, then modified by the b-jazz-https-all-the-things bot, then changed back to http by the original mapper (wonder if there’s a possibility for an endless loop here…). I deleted it now, let’s see if it comes back from the dead.

Comment from MikeN on 4 May 2019 at 10:23

For an iterative returning visitor, there’s also https://www.openstreetmap.org/node/6361739978/history , They left the “Suite C” part, even though the B is the most likely correct. It may occupy both B and C however.

Comment from bkil on 6 May 2019 at 22:06

1. Based on the returning visitors, they seem to be monitoring some of the nodes afterwards. However, this monitoring may break if you delete the node right away. Could you experiment with instead of deleting the node, first change the website and name to something neutral (openstreetmap.org), then some hours (or days?) later, blank these fields, then a couple of more hours/days later, delete the node in question? This is just to probe around what they are running.

2. Could you do the deletion based on minute diffs? I see detection currently takes a few hours, however the job of a sweatshop worker may be validated hourly by their managers, hence by the time you delete the entities in question, it is of no interest to them. However, it would be more annoying if it did not show up after refreshing their screen.

Comment from PeanutButterRemedy on 7 May 2019 at 14:46

That would be an interesting experiment to conduct. Let me know if that turns up any results. If you find one and modify it, my algorithm won’t tag it, so it will remain undeleted and you continue your experiment.

Doing minute diffs is on the table, but hasn’t been tackled yet. I’m not worried about it being validated hourly by their managers, I’m more worried about it being submitted to search engine crawlers and immediately being indexed. My understanding is that they will crawl on a semi-regular basis though, so even if deleted 24 hours later, I think there is still impact on the search ranking contribution that being on OSM would have.

Comment from skquinn on 11 May 2019 at 05:15

I read https://www.openstreetmap.org/changeset/68807119 and to be honest, I was quite alarmed at first; I now wonder if we have scared off poor “sharon in dc” for good (she has only ever made the one changeset). The presence of an actual changeset comment and a username not resembling the business name would have given me pause for thought, if I was the one doing this.

I agree that we need to rid the database of SEO spam and similar rubbish-quality mapping, but a “false positive” of this sort will turn what could have been a potentially very useful new mapper into someone who says “#$%& this, I’m just going to use G–gl- Maps from now on”.

Comment from aharvey on 12 September 2019 at 13:05

Just saw your SOTM US talk. We see the exact same thing here in Australia. Our local community decided we’ll immediately revert the changeset. The changesets all follow he same pattern so we are fairly sure this is the same dodgy SEO company and not the real business owner who maybe just made some mistakes.

I applaud your efforts to try to reform the source of these bad edits, as what we do now is really just a bandaid solution.

I would like to create blacklist of usernames that mappers can add to when they revert these changesets, so it’s easier to keep track, do you think that’s useful? Do you know of a list already?

Comment from b-jazz on 12 September 2019 at 23:03

Thanks @aharvey. For others, the video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BovbAIIJ6L8

For us, the hardest part was trying to block a moving target. Since a new account was added for every single POI they created.

It was a lot of effort to chase down the source of the edits, but I think it was worth it in the end. I’d suggest starting there. And if/when you do find the people responsible, treat them with respect and understand where they are coming from and try to sell them on a win/win solution.

Comment from aharvey on 14 September 2019 at 08:31

For us, the hardest part was trying to block a moving target. Since a new account was added for every single POI they created.

I agree, which is one of the reasons we decided in Australia to just revert straight away. For me this is a big reason to maintain a central blacklist so at least we know which OSM usernames are linked to this kind of SEO spam.

It was a lot of effort to chase down the source of the edits, but I think it was worth it in the end.

I did think about this, but yes it would be a lot of effort. It was great that you were able to have some success doing this!


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