Remember about a year ago when some savvy prankster created fake Google Maps listings for the Secret Service and the FBI? The fake listings looked head-to-toe legit, including actual addresses and working phone numbers—just not the agencies’ correct addresses or phone numbers. Whether you remember that gag or not, the man behind it, Bryan Seely, has just pulled off another shenanigan that will surely stick in your memory. Seely put Edward Snowden in the White House for all to see. (On Google Maps, at least.)
“Edward’s Snow Den”
A listing for “Edward’s Snow Den” appeared recently on Google Maps, and the address and marker for its location showed it smack dab in the White House. A Street View look showed the executive mansion’s interior. What’s more, the false Google Maps entry was an honest-to-gods verified listing, for the nonexistent business Edward’s Snow Den.
Seely created the listing without any sort of hackery or technical witchcraft—he simply exploited the same loophole in Google Maps that he used to set up the Secret Service and FBI entries. The service has had problems with fake listings since at least 2008.
The process is actually a fairly simple one that, at the time of this writing, still works. Though I of course don’t recommend it, you could probably do the very same thing yourself with minimal effort; I’ll leave it to you to Duck Duck Go the instructions for pulling it off.
Google’s Double Standard
Seely created the three fake listings not to make any political statement, but to expose the Google Maps loophole and the double standards the rest of the internet world at large is held to by the tech giant.
When Google finds a public security vulnerability on a website—any website—it gives the proprietors 90 days to solve the issue or create a patch that will temporarily fix the problem until it can be solved properly. Even if you don’t run a website of your own, you’re likely aware of the possible repercussions of being out of compliance with Google. Search engine rankings can (will) sink like a submarine and never come back up, all but disappearing your website from internet searches; this, in turn, can substantially impact overall business.
Google, of course, has known about the easily-exploited loophole for at least a year, and, clearly, failed to fix it. “They didn’t take steps,” Seely said in an interview with Search Engine Land. “They didn’t take action. What’s to stop me from doing this to a congressman?”
For what it’s worth, the “Edward’s Snow Den” listing has been removed from Google Maps. So they did take some action. Point Google.