Google isn't alone in being gamed by scammers, but the company is strangely ineffective when it comes to fighting scams on Maps.
For instance, local business giant Yelp is widely regarded as being more effective at fighting review spam than Google. When Hawkins finds a business with an average five-star rating and clearly fake reviews on Google, she'll often go to its Yelp profile, where it will have an accurately abysmal rating.
Amazon has also improved its review process by highlighting "verified" reviews at the top of the list and by taking a hard stance on fraudulent reviews, launching lawsuits against people who bought and sold fake reviews.
So why hasn't Google done a better job on Maps?
A recently departed Google employee who worked with the Maps team believes the lack of progress was partly because Google didn't have the best benchmarks for measuring its progress. This person asked not to be named to avoid damaging their relationship with their former employer.
Google says that only a very small percentage of overall reviews content on Google is fake, but the former employee doesn't believe that its systems were good enough at distinguishing the fakes.
"Ultimately, if their measurements aren't coming up significantly different than before, then it's not raising eyebrows," the former employee said. "And if they're not regularly redefining what the measurement should be, then it's not going to."
Blumenthal argued a similar point in a fiery blog post following Google's 2017 report about abuse on Google Maps. Google had concluded that only 0.5 percent of local searches lead to fake listings. Blumenthal called this an understatement because of "fundamentally flawed" methodology.
"Google is guilty of delivering a lot of fake content," Blumenthal says. "It has responsibility here. They need to wrestle the problem under control, and they haven't demonstrated enough of a commitment."
Another one of Google Maps' most high-profile critics remains pessimistic about Google's capacity to protect consumers.
Back in 2014, former lead-generation spammer Bryan Seely intercepted FBI and Secret Service calls by setting up fake listings on Google Maps. He has since pointed out other flaws and loopholes.
Today, he worries that Google isn't focusing enough on fixing the product, even as potential abusers find more creative ways to deceive users or make a quick buck.
"If it's on Google Maps, people think it's real," Seeley says. "That's just the default."
Top photo courtesy of Anthony Johnson Photography.