Google Maps Turns 10: Introduces Local Guide Program Plus: Unwitting Oil Theft Co-Conspirator?

The Google Maps mapping service is 10 this year, and for its birthday, the popular mapping service-turned GPS-service is getting – and giving – some interesting gifts. From creating an app to help residents of cities across the country find new exciting places to see and things to do while hoping to steal a competitor’s users to being part of an alleged oil theft ring, Google has been busy the last few weeks — even if the search giant didn’t know it.

According to TechCrunch, Google’s recent update to the Google Maps application included the addition of a program it is calling “Local Guides” that competes directly with the Yelp Elite Squad.

According to the Local Guides website, users can “help others and support businesses by writing local reviews on Google.”

Participants in the Local Guides program earn benefits for writing reviews, with the benefits varying according to the user’s Level rating. Users begin at Level 1 and increase their level depending on how many reviews they’ve written, up to Level 4.

Perks range from newsletters, member only invites to contests and parties, pre-release product testing eligibility, becoming a community moderator, and an annual thank you gift.

Google Maps Local Guides Service Overview

Those who wish to join the Local Guides program for their city can do so on the Google Maps Local Guide Signup Page. If you are logged into your Google account when you click the link, a popup will ask you to choose your city name, agree to the TOS, and agree that you are at least 18, and that’s it, you’re in.

The Yelp Elite Squad operates on a local level as well, and the programs have their similarities. According to Yelp, “members of this exclusive, in-the-know crew reveal hot spots for fellow locals and are the true heart of the Yelp community, both on and offline.”

There are some big differences between Local Guides program from Google and the Yelp Elites program, specifically with the selection process.

Yelp Elite Squad

To be a part of the Elite program, Yelp users have to have submit an application and Yelp staff chooses participants after someone nominates them. Elites have to be re-nominated and re-selected each year.

Requirements for selection include having a good history on the site. Review “frequency and quality” are crucial, as is user engagement and helpfulness on the site overall.

Yelp Elites cannot own a business, and must be of legal drinking age, since the parties Yelp holds often serves alcohol. The perks to becoming a Yelp Elite includes those monthly parties, a profile badge, and “schwag,” among other things.

In other Google Maps news, Co. Clare, Ireland, Councilor Alan O’Callaghan warned residents of the area that people are using Google Maps to find out where residents are storing oil on their properties, according to Irish Central. O’Callaghan, who happens to be in the oil and fuel business, thinks the perpetrators may have local knowledge, but not necessarily.

The report states that at a Killaloe councilors meeting attended by Garda Chief Superintendent John Kerin and local residents, O’Callaghan warned that would-be thieves could use Google Maps for their crimes.

Google Maps Image of Theft

They could pinpoint exactly where an oil tank is stored on someone’s property using street view or satellite view, even if it is hidden. He added that, “it might not be local knowledge.”

The following is according to Kerin, via the Irish Central.

“Whether or not it is down to the decrease in the price of fuel, it has not been as prominent in December or January of this year.”

Fifty-two fuel theft reports were filed in Co. Clare in 2014, and this year’s numbers are about the same, said the report. Though they are still investigating the thefts, some prosecutions for the fuel thefts have been successful, the report said.

[Screenshots via Google and Yelp]

[Map Data © Google via Irish Central]