Google Maps is a wonderful tool that helps millions of people find their way around the world. Some would be literally lost without it.
Generally speaking, Maps is used to navigate the real world. However, spammers are also using it to guide prospective pirates on the Internet.
This leads to rather unusual findings. For example, this week one of our searches guided us to a user-generated Google Map that marked a location in the middle of New Delhi, India.
While it’s no secret that there are millions of pirates in the Asian country, it was still a bit of a surprise to see the location tagged as “GTA V Free Download For PC Full Version Setup+Torrents”
Below is a screenshot on the map, which links to a now-removed page at hellboundgamers.com. It also reveals that these links can generate quite a lot of traffic, with this particular map having been viewed more than 12,000 times.
When we investigated further, we found dozens of these pirates ‘treasures’ scattered around Google Maps. Some pinpoint specific locations, others just load a generic map. What they all have in common is that they are filled with pirate keywords.
For example, one Google Maps layer targets prospective pirates of the movie “Boy Erased.” It is advertised with a bunch of related terms, such as ‘Full Movie Online Boy Erased,’ ‘Online Free Watch Boy Erased online free HDQ,’ ‘Boy Erased watch online free 1080P,’ to name a few.
Some links are more nefarious than others. The trick can be used by pirates to draw attention to their sites, but more often it’s abused by scammers who link to some kind of paysite, where people should never leave their credit card details.
That begs the question of how many people who viewed these links fell into a trap?
The scammers use the My Maps trick because these search results are more likely to rank well. Google Maps is seen as a trusted site, as opposed to a random page where links are spammed.
This problem isn’t entirely new either. We signaled similar issues in the past and Google is undoubtedly aware of them too. As is often the case with user-generated content, however, they rely on copyright holders to alert them.
When we look at Google’s received takedown notices reported by Lumen, we see that many of these My Maps links have been reported by copyright holders. However, that doesn’t deter scammers and spammers from hiding new ‘treasures’ on Google Maps.