Google confirms Web address breach

January 16 2014 | Latest News

By Jason Q. Freed. News Editor

Web addresses for thousands of hotels on Google Maps and Google+ were changed recently by a third party without the hoteliers’ consent, Google confirmed Wednesday.

A representative from Google said via email the company is aware of the issue and is working to fix it but would not comment further.

During a time when Google is putting much emphasis on its hospitality vertical, the issue brings security issues for the search-engine giant to light.

“Obviously Google is going to have some explaining to do on this one,” said Tim Peter, founder of Tim Peter & Associates, a consulting firm that helps hoteliers optimize their digital presence. “This shouldn’t be able to happen.”

But Peter, as well as another source, said the issue serves as a good reminder for hoteliers to take an active approach to ensure their online presence is accurate across a wide variety of websites.

On Google+ specifically, Peter said the breach appears to have affected mostly hoteliers who hadn’t “claimed” their pages.

“Obviously the first thing to do on any social site is to make sure you’ve claimed your listing,” he said, “although I can’t guarantee that would have prevented this.” Loren Gray, director of e-commerce for Ocean Properties Limited, said there are third parties—which he called “domain jumpers”—constantly looking to steal traffic from hotel websites by masking URLs or setting up fake websites to mimic hotel sites.

“I’m constantly fighting a barrage of these,” he said, also suggesting hoteliers partner with firms that help combat such practices.

Gray and Peter said ultimately it is the responsibility of individual operators to protect their properties’ online presence, even if they are part of a larger brand.

“Many brands are doing this for their hotels and many aren’t,” Peter said. “Anytime you talk about local marketing, some of these national brands don’t have the resources at the local level. Some offer that support, others don’t.”

A Marriott International-franchised hotel was identified by media reports as one of the hotels affected by this latest breach. One report from totaled more than 4,000 affected hotel listings.

“Marriott had to move the mountain and just started trying to get their hotels even to have a page; they’re just entering the space,” Gray added.

Outside of “verifying” a hotel’s Google+ page—which requires clicking a link that says “Is this your business?” and then waiting for Google to contact you for additional information—Peter suggested hoteliers take additional steps to claim their pages.

Connect your social media pages to your website and vice-versa, he said. Also, set up alerts in traffic analytics software, such as Google Analytics, that will identify shifts in traffic and alert the hotel.

“You want to pay attention to the traffic from Google+ and other sources,” he said. “Even for sites that give you low traffic, Google Analytics is really good at identifying even small changes to your traffic.”