[Talk-us] Help fight advertising in OSM


over the past year or so, I have recreationally hunted down advertising on OSM and removed it. In many cases it's a clear-cut situation (there were cases where advertising borders on vandalism, with whole streets being named after a business), but there have also been situations where a local mapper had diligently copied a business's sales slogan into the description tag and was then upset to see this removed.
As more and more SEO firms start dumping their stuff onto OSM (and here I am not talking about those who actually talk to us and listen, but those who don't care), this is becoming a fight that needs to be fought by the community as a whole.
With this posting I'd like to start a wider discussion about advertising; the reason it goes to talk-us is that the USA are more strongly targeted by SEO companies and at the same time the community there is still not as big and watchful as in other regions of interest to spammers, leading to a relatively high volume of unwanted advertising in the US.
 General rant about advertising
I'll make this short as it's likely the most opinionated part of this message. Advertising illustrates a lot of what has gone wrong in western societies. There's a war on over attention, and most people are affected by it throughout their daily lives - even if you run an adblocker, you won't be immune to the attention-grabbing design of web sites and apps and games. The films you watch on TV will deliver content that fits snugly around the ad breaks. Advertising has crept into the home, into schools and kindergartens. Advertising calls you on the phone. Advertising's very mission is not to make your life better, but take your mind away from what matters, and making you want something. Advertising harms rational thought, self-determination, wellbeing, and the environment.
 Advertising != information
It is information if you say "there's a supermarket here named so-and-so, and they are open at this time, and this is their telephone number, and they sell these products". It is advertising if the products or services are described in a way designed to make this particular vendor stand out, or designed to make you want to buy. A list of products or services can already venture into the world of advertising. Example: "Sells ice cream and milk shakes" - not advertising. "Sells chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, homegrown blueberry ice cream, and caramel fudge ice cream" - this is getting dangerously close to advertising (do you taste it in your mouth already?). "City's premier spot for delicious organic ice creams, prepared on the premises by our Italian chef", well.
 Rant about advertising in OSM
Advertising is often added to OSM in blatant disregard for what we want; for those adding advertising to OSM, we are just another vehicle to carry their marketing message across. More precisely, you will usually have a business crafting a marketing message, asking another business to "manage their online visibility" for a small fee, and that business then exploits cheap labour in a sweatshop somewhere on the planet to add the marketing message to OSM (and Google Plus, and Facebook, and all the yellow pages they can find). Data added to OSM this way consists of a factual part (name and type of business, address, opening hours), and an advertising part (usually in the "note" or "description" tag, and/or in changeset comments and user profiles).
The advertising part itself has no place in OSM, but even the factual part is often buggy in a number of ways:
* the address tags don't follow OSM conventions (suite/unit number added to addr:street, abbreviations in street names) * the placement of the node is wrong (in the middle of the road, clustered in the desert or on another continent due to some geocoding cock-up) * the placement of the node violates the copyright of whatever gecoder was used to generate it * the node doesn't have a tag that describes what it is, in OSM terms (no "shop" or "amenity" or "office" or anything - or at best some generic office=company tag) * the node doesn't actually signify any relevant walk-in business but is just put there to publish an URL or phone number (witness recent locksmith scam) * the node uses other unsuitable tags like "Keywords", "Services offered", "Category", or incorrect opening hours)
Such advertising is regularly added by accounts created solely for the purpose of adding one single business, and the accounts will usually have a name derived directly from the business name, and will never reply to any attempt at contacting them. In very rare cases it might be an actual business owner adding themselves to the map, but in the overwhelming number of cases it's just professional spammers.
Advertising also distorts the quality of OSM. If a mapper maps an area, they will most likely add *all* doctors they encounter and not just those who happen to pay money to an online visibility enhancement firm. If we allow advertisers to flood OSM with POIs, even *if* they had none of the flaws above, OSM would still lose its appeal of being made by locals who know best.
 What should I do?
Advertising has no place in OSM. If you encounter advertising, you have a few options:
* Contact the mapper responsible and politely ask them to fix it and/or stop adding advertising. In most cases, since these are throwaway accounts created by professional spammers, you won't receive a response but when in doubt, try it.
* Leave the factual information in place, remove only the advertising. I recommend to do this only if the factual information seems correct and meaningful and at the right place; if the factual information is only a name and an address, ask yourself: Should *you* be the one who completes the SEO company's job for them, or rather delete the whole business?
* Remove the node altogehter - recommended if the tagging is buggy.
* Use the business contact information provided to call/email them and ask which SEO firm they have paid to add data to OSM, and explain how this volunteer project is damaged by the actions of the SEO firm and that this also tarnishes the business reputation. Recommended if you like a little fight; some SEO operations have already been stopped from abusing OSM that way.
* Should we have some MapRoulette task or OSMCha automatism or OSMI view to detect potential advertising?
 Examples of advertising in OSM
I've made a list of roughly 1750 nodes in the US, sorted by state, that look suspiciously like advertising. The list is algorithmically generated and almost certainly has the odd false positive, where a mapper simply described where exactly the rare tree is hidden and my algorithm thought this must be advertising, or where something really is just a harmless description of products offered. The list is certainly not exhaustive; I'm sure that using Overpass to search for tell-tale SEO signs you can come up with may more.
The data is in CSV format with the columns:
If you're in the mood, grab a few and kick out the most outrageous abuses of OSM. And maybe we can establish ways to make this a habit in the project. Ideas welcome!
I wanted to include the list here but that would probably have condemned this message to spam filters, hence:
You will be surprised about the breadth of marketing blurb that has already crept into OSM.
Bye Frederik