The Real Reason Google's Restaurant Reviews Are Being Hacked

By now, most people around the world would have heard about the hostilities initiated by Russia and now taking place in Ukraine, but what is not as immediately obvious is whether the Russian people themselves know how bad things are, especially since the flow of information has been severely curtailed. As Nobel Prize winner Dmitri A Muratov put it, "Everything that's not propaganda is being eliminated," per The New York Times. But for a while, it seemed as though creative techies had found a way to get around Russia's tightening noose by calling on people to leave Google reviews for random restaurants and businesses.

A Twitter account allegedly owned by the hacker collective "Anonymous" sent out the suggestion, saying "Go to Google Maps. Go to Russia. Find a restaurant or business and write a review. When you write the review explain what is happening in Ukraine," and credited the idea to a Polish social media user. They even, rather helpfully, provided sample text, which translated into: "The food was great! Unfortunately, Putin spoiled our appetites by invading Ukraine. Stand up to your dictator, stop killing innocent people! Your government is lying to you. Get up!" 

And for a while, the idea seemed to work. One of the restaurants that CNET reports got targeted by the fake reviews was Moscow's Grand Cafe Dr. Jhivago, which not only saw reviews but photos of the various atrocities committed by the Russian army as it tried to take over Ukraine.

Amazon became the site of political protest reviews, too

But Google eventually took down the reviews. A company spokesperson told CNET that "Due to a recent increase in contributed content on Google Maps related to the war in Ukraine, we've put additional protections in place to monitor and prevent content that violates our policies for Maps, including temporarily blocking new reviews, photos, and videos in the region."

Picking the unlikeliest of places to leave political comments is not new. When Mitt Romney ran for office and was asked about bringing on more women, his infamous "binders full of women" triggered so many voters that HuffPost reported they decided to vent their spleen on Amazon, where items like the Avery Durable View Binder carrying a few politically slanted "reviews" like one that complained "Maybe it's just my women, but they don't seem to want to fit into the space I've designated for them in this binder. They keep sticking out over the edges, even getting away in some cases. I thought using clear, glass-ceiling page protectors would help, but it doesn't seem to slow them down anymore. I'm going to have to resort to more severe three-hole punching, to keep my women in line. And maybe switch to the Trap Her, Keep Her."

Unlike Google, Amazon did hang on to its sense of humor and the reviews stayed up – they might even still be found if anyone can scroll back to 2012, that is.