Today as 2024 begins, without a doubt a business’s online presence is just as crucial as its physical one. However, this digital footprint can be vulnerable to malicious alterations, especially from competitors.
However when your business listing is tampered with, it’s not just an inconvenience; it’s a direct threat to your reputation and revenue. We discuss here the practical steps you can take, measures Google can implement, and legal avenues available to protect your business listing.
Step 1: What You Can do to Protect Your Business
- Claim Your Listing: Ensure that you’ve claimed your business listing on platforms like Google My Business. This gives you control and makes it harder for unauthorized changes.
- Update Security Measures: Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to secure your accounts.
- Vigilance is Key: Regularly monitor your business listing on all platforms. Use tools like Google Alerts to stay informed about any changes. If your business listing is changed, Google will alert you (make sure you are receiving these direct) and then simply change it back – 2 can play at that game.
- Gather Evidence: If you suspect foul play, document everything. Take screenshots of unauthorised changes and record dates and times.
Step 2: Google’s Role in Protecting Your Business Listing
- Notifications: As discussed above, Google will notify you of changes suggested to your listing (an otherwise helpful feature of Google Business). Once notified, log back in and revert any unauthorised changes back.
- Make a Report to Google: In cases of persistent issues, reaching out to Google support can provide more direct intervention. In many cases they will make note of IP addresses and the actual Google account making those “spam edits” and first block them from making edits, the next step is cancelling the whole account (potentially putting their business profile(s) at risk of suspension) and finally they can lock your business listing down so changes cannot be made (except by you).
Step 3: Exploring Legal Avenues
- Understanding the Legal Grounds: Consult with a legal professional to understand if the changes made to your listing constitute business defamation or unfair competition. In many cases there are grounds against the harassment.
- Cease and Desist Letters: A formal cease and desist letter can be an effective first step, warning the perpetrator of potential legal action.
- Taking action: If the issue persists, consider taking legal action for damages.
- Collecting and Presenting Evidence: Learn how to collect admissible evidence and present your case in a legal setting.
Further information – what laws cover this type of corporate harassment in Australia
Defamation Laws: If the changes to your listing contain false information that could harm the reputation of your business, you might have a case under defamation laws. Australian defamation law is designed to protect individuals and businesses from having their reputation damaged by untrue statements.
Australian Consumer Law (ACL): Under the ACL, particularly under the provisions relating to misleading and deceptive conduct (Section 18), you could take action if a competitor intentionally modifies your business listing to mislead customers. This law is applicable to all Australian businesses and provides protection against conduct that misleads or deceives, or is likely to do so.
Passing Off: If the modification of your listing leads customers to believe that your services are associated with those of the competitor, you could pursue a common law action known as ‘passing off’. This action is used to enforce unregistered trademark rights and protect the goodwill of a business.
Criminal Law: In some cases, if the action of modifying your business listing involves hacking into your account or other forms of unauthorized access to computer systems, this could fall under criminal activities such as fraud or cybercrime, which are punishable under Australian criminal law.
Cease and Desist Letter: As a first step, you might consider sending a cease and desist letter to the competitor. This letter is a formal request to stop the unlawful activity and can be a precursor to legal action.
Legal Advice and Action: It is advisable to consult with a lawyer who specializes in business law or intellectual property law to understand the specifics of your situation and the best course of action. They can assist with legal strategies such as negotiation, mediation, or, if necessary, litigation.
Remember, each case is unique, and the applicability of these laws will depend on the specific circumstances of the modification to your Google Business listing. Legal professionals can provide tailored advice and represent your interests in any proceedings.
Dealing with competitors maliciously altering your business listing is challenging but manageable with the right approach. By taking proactive personal steps, utilizing the tools provided by platforms like Google, and understanding your legal options, you can effectively safeguard your business’s online presence.
You’ll soon teach your competitors that messing with your profile is definitely not worth it. Best to leave the competition on the field…
We’ll do a larger post on Google’s suggest an edit feature soon.
Also please note that we are giving no legal advice in this post, please consult a legal professional for guidance on your unique case.