One restaurant found out the hard way, according to Wired:

It began in early 2012, when he experienced a sudden 75 percent drop off in customers on the weekend, the time he normally did most of his business. The slump continued for months, for no apparent reason. Bertagna’s profits plummeted, he was forced to lay off some of his staff, and he struggled to understand what was happening. Only later did Bertagna come to suspect that he was the victim of a gaping vulnerability that made his Google listings open to manipulation.

He was alerted to that possibility when one of his regulars phoned the restaurant. “A customer called me and said, ‘Why are you closed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday? What’s going on?’” Bertagna says.

It turned out that Google Places, the search giant’s vast business directory, was misreporting the Serbian Crown’s hours. Anyone Googling Serbian Crown, or plugging it into Google Maps, was told incorrectly that the restaurant was closed on the weekends, Bertagna says. For a destination restaurant with no walk-in traffic, that was a fatal problem. More.

Bertagna, a senior citizen not accustomed to the slippery ways of Internet hacking, really didn’t stand much of a chance fighting back against false information about his restaurant, written into Internet-based search media. His decision to sue isn’t likely to help because he is suing Google, which is not short of sharp lawyers, and the case would be hard to prove even if everyone pretty much suspects what happened.

The Wired article also details the case of a jeweller who fought back against an unscrupulous competitor doing the same thing, and won because she had a Web consultant who discovered and dealt with the actual source of wrong information and bad reviews.

Google does try to police malicious edits, but it is fighting a losing battle when anyone can enter “information,” as Wikipedia has discovered. Once enough false information is in circulation, entire fictional scenarios can be created that are difficult to confute because they appear to be well-sourced via constant repetition.

The moral of the story seems to be that today’s small business owner must monitor the information that appears online, and act quickly in cases of malicious (or inadvertent) misinformation. We can ignore the Internet, but it will not ignore us.

Here’s Google’s Help Desk for such problems.

Here’s the now-defunct restaurant:

 

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...