Mobile Search’s Sleazy Side

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Mobile search is one of the handiest inventions to hit smart phones – except when you really need it to work.

For me, it was a frightening locksmith experience that revealed mobile search’s serious shortcomings.

My wife was out of town and the spare key was in the car she took to the airport. In a rush to get the kids into the car for pizza dinner, I had pulled the front door shut and locked us all out.

“No problem,” I figured, pulling out my smart phone. I punched in a search for a local locksmith and waited. Dozens of results came back at me, all with local exchange phone numbers and local addresses. This was fishy: we live in a small ‘burb in Marin County and there’s no way that many locksmiths are working in this neck of the woods. Why a local locksmith? Because for a sensitive task like this I wanted someone with a storefront and a license number I could verify.

It illustrates the utter failure of mobile search and the danger presented by unscrupulous businesses that play the SEO game.

Several other searches yielded similar results. I looked for ways to find numbers not offered as sponsored results but those sponsored results inevitably took up a huge chunk of screen real estate.

Finally, I started dialing. The first three numbers claimed to have local addresses. I asked what street they were on, and they couldn’t answer the question. The fourth named a local street. I gave them my information and asked how long it would take: Thirty minutes and $75. Thirty minutes later, though, no one had shown up.

My kids were shivering. I called the locksmith and this time a different person answered and admitted that no, they were not a local locksmith service and that’s why they were running late. I asked for the license number of the company and was told that you don’t need a license number for this sort of work in California. Immediately I told the locksmith service to cancel the order. The unlicensed locksmith ultimately showed up anyway, and when I told him it had been canceled, he unloaded two minutes of f-bombs – and I called the police.

This situation illustrates the utter failure of mobile search in some semi-emergency situations and the real danger presented by unscrupulous businesses that play the SEO game, manipulate phone numbers and addresses, and deliver shoddy services.

True, on a large format monitor it would have been easier to ascertain which locksmiths were legit. But on a standard smart phone with minimal real estate and a high-pressure situation, the search was extremely challenging. How many of you would want to use an unlicensed locksmith driving an unmarked car and demanding payment with expletives anywhere near your family? Mobile search still has a ways to go.

As for my kids and me? Don’t worry, we ultimately got in to the house.

Alex’s Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday.


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Street Fight Daily: 04.22.11