Without a doubt, the Internet is quite possibly the most incredible technological advancement to date. It instantly connects us with people, places, and information we would otherwise never be able to access. It gives everyone a voice and a platform to play.
Everyone: even those who do not play fairly. That’s what Josie Candito, co-owner of Master Mechanic High Park is trying to change.
Cyber-bullies, trolls, hackers, the list goes on-and-on. Since the rise of the Internet, there have been those that seek to exploit it, and others, for personal gain. In recent years, however, a new type of ‘business-bullying’ has seen an alarming surge in reported incidents. The problem? Businesses often do not know they’ve been targeted until it’s too late.
Most business owners simply notice a sudden dip in traffic, for no apparent reason. With fewer customers coming in, the business begins to struggle and is forced to lay-off staff, or worse, close up shop. Often, business owners are left with no explanation or understanding of what happened.
Most Businesses Are Not Aware of the Risks
The truth is, almost all businesses are vulnerable to manipulation online through their Google listing. In fact, the same functionality that makes the service such a trusted resource is also its Achilles tendon.
As a business owner, you can claim a listing through Google and begin curating it for free. The problem comes when you ignore your Google listing, and inadvertently invite others to claim it. That’s because anyone can suggest edits to a listed business on Google Maps. These changes can include altered business hours, phone numbers, and services.
This crowd-sourced approach is the same model that made sites like Wikipedia such a valuable resource of information. Most people use the shared service correctly. Some do not, and as the saying goes: one bad apple can ruin the bunch–or worse–your business.
Then, there’s the practice of bombarding a listing with fake reviews. Hackers either flood businesses with low reviews to deter would-be customers, or they spam a listing with fake 5-star reviews which Google could flag as false self-promotion. Perhaps the most peculiar is when a business is linked with a completely unrelated service, in a different location. This is a nightmare at a time when almost everyone looks to the Internet for recommendations.
Josie Candito was recently featured in the Toronto Star for being a vocal advocate of protecting your business’ online presence. With nearly a perfect Google ranking today, Josie always saw the value in advertising online–but was also aware of the risk.
After discovering photos under her listing of another Master Mechanic location, she was disheartened by the lack of support and options business owners have. “There are laws against cyber-bullying, fraud, and hacking sensitive information–but no one is really acting on behalf of businesses. When someone hides behind a computer, targeting you from a distance, there’s no Internet police to call. It’s still a grey area. Was an actual crime committed? I think so!” explained Josie.
To fix her online presence, Josie enlisted the help of Sydney Eatz and Richard Trus, a duo acting on behalf of Toronto’s Local Guides community to improve Google Map listings. They helped Josie remove some of the fake images on her Google listing, but even their options were limited.
Recognizing the potential threat this issue poses and the lack of resources available, Josie is helping other businesses and Master Mechanic locations protect themselves.
“I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve always been interested and involved in promoting my business online. Not all business owners are as involved as I am, and when faced with a hurdle like this, it can be crippling. The Internet should help small businesses succeed, not hurt them,” said Josie.
For the past four years, Josie has worked with her local MP’s, the Consumers Council of Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to advocate for laws that protect small businesses from being misrepresented or targeted online.
“No one could come to my business and change my services or hours of operation. Why can they do it online without consequence?” asked Josie.
Josie is always happy to help share her knowledge, resources, and time with other business owners. She’s a member of the Advisory Council for Master Mechanic and does what she can to support all businesses in the High Park Community, and beyond.
The lack of governance on the Internet is a problem that we need to address collectively because anyone can become a victim overnight. While lawmakers and business owners are starting to take notice, hackers are still far ahead and targeting new victims daily.
If you’d like to contribute to the call for change, you can contact your local MP! Let them know that this issue is important to you and help protect the businesses that make up our communities.
To read the full article from the Toronto Star featuring Josie, click here.