I think it was a month ago, the phone calls started.
I mean, I always get calls for Off Center Ceramics, usually from credit card processors. The usual one targets “toy and hobby store owners,” they’re all robo-calls, and I just hang up on ‘em.
No, these were different. These were people. One of them asked if we sold pre-made tiles and glazes. One asked if we fired paint-your-own pottery. The most recent one wanted to know if we sold Skutt kilns. Huh?
But I couldn’t figure out where these people were getting my number. It’s not a secret, by any means. It’s on my business cards, it’s on my website, heck, it’s even in the phone book, not that anyone still looks there. But anyone who had my card or my website would also have a fair idea what my business actually is: making and selling pottery. Through galleries, art fairs, Saturday Market. Not from here at home.
Denise finally figured it out. Playing around on her tablet, she searched for Off Center Ceramics on Google. What came up first was not my website, but a Google Business listing, that said “Off Center Ceramics, Pottery Store.” With my address, phone number, and a completely imaginary listing of business hours. (Monday through Friday, 10-5, Saturday, noon-4, closed Sunday.) And a Google street-view image of the front of our house.
If you’ve seen these things, you may have noticed the “Is this your business?” link. I pressed it, God help me, to see if I could make the thing go away. Got a phone call with a confirmation number, and now I’m in control. Only not so much. Take the business description: I seem to be limited to Google search categories. So I can say “Pottery Store,” but not “Pottery Studio,” or even “Pottery.” I can change the hours, but not, apparently, make them go away entirely. If I Remove Listing, it’ll still show up on Google and Maps, I just won’t be able to control it. The only other option seems to be “This Business is Permanently Closed,” which I don’t want to do because I’ve seen that marker on other Google entries, and I don’t want people to think I’ve stopped making pottery.
Most frustrating of all, I don’t know where the damn thing even came from. I didn’t create it. I bounced around Google’s unhelpful help pages for a while, finally got a phone number where supposedly, actual people answer the phone, wrote it down to call next morning. I also remembered that my domain name registry, Network Solutions, keeps sending me emails offering to manage my information on Google, so I wrote their number down as well.
The next morning wasn’t much better. Google’s automatic switchboard shunted me around in circles and finally dumped me on their advertising representatives, after ten minutes on hold. Who told me I had the wrong department, and offered to transfer me again. I said “Not if it means another ten minutes of Muzak,” so she made sure someone was available to pick up immediately, bless her.
Still got no help. They insisted I’d set the whole thing up the previous evening, as their records showed I’d verified at that time. They said there was no way to take it down short of declaring it Closed, though they did show me where to click “No customer services are available at this location,” which means my address becomes “somewhere in Eugene, Oregon.” So, mostly wrong instead of wildly so. They also have no explanation of how it got there in the first place. “Someone with access to your Gmail account must have created it.” Nope. “Our algorithms don’t harvest that information.” Oh yeah? Like I said, unsatisfying.
Network Solutions wasn’t much better. It wasn’t us, they said, Can’t help you. They did say that if your WhoIs information is public on ICANN, Google can and will harvest it to do this kind of thing. I can prevent it from happening again, if I have them make that information private.
Barn door, horse.
So today I’ll have to spend some more time in their control room, trying to do more damage control. Fix the link so it goes to my website index page, rather than just the contact frame. Try and take down the street-view photo, or at least replace it with a pottery picture. See if I can kill the business hours section entirely.
And the capper? They seem to have done the same thing for Denise’s paper making website, Pulp Romances.