Google’s next US antitrust problem: Google Maps

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Enlarge / Let’s see, you’ve landed on my “Google Ads” page, and with three houses… that’s $1,400.

Ron Amadeo / Hasbro

Google’s latest antitrust headache comes from the US government grappling with how Google is bundling Google Maps and preventing developers from using competing services. Nothing is official yet, but Reuters sources say the US Department of Justice has “breathed new life into an investigation into Google Maps to determine whether bundling the service with other Google software is illegally stifling competition.”

The DOJ investigation looks at two Google Maps strategies. The first, surprisingly, is all about Android Automotive – note that this isn’t Android Auto, the phone app. Android Automotive (written out in full) is a full operating system that manufacturers can ship on their cars. We covered it on the Polestar 2 last year. As on phones, Google is bundling its apps on Android Automotive. Google Maps is a killer app in a car, but if manufacturers want Google Maps, Google requires them to use the Play Store, Google Assistant, YouTube Music, and all of the company’s other car apps. The Justice Department fears this requirement will stifle competition.

What is surprising about this move by the DOJ is that the US has never forced Google to do anything about app bundling phones, that’s a much bigger market. Android Automotive is a very new, very limited operating system that is only available for about 10 vehicles such as the Polestar 2, other Volvo vehicles such as the XC40 Recharge, the GMC Hummer EV and soon 2023 Ford vehicles. Android can now be found on around 2.5 billion cell phones worldwide. The US has taken action against Google for restricting competition in the app stores on Android, paying to be the default search engine on most platforms, advertising its own services in search and engaging in anti-competitive behavior in the advertising market. But Google is still free to bundle its apps on phones.

Android Automotive on Polestar 2.
Enlarge / Android Automotive on Polestar 2.

North Star

The EU, on the other hand, has forced Google to unbundle Chrome and Search from Android and has blocked Google from penalizing Android manufacturers who use Android source code to create Android forks. Android development has traditionally been ad-funded via Google’s bundled apps, but now EU manufacturers have the option to pay for Android if they don’t want to bundle all Google services. If the DOJ investigation ends by forcing Google to unbundle its apps from cars, it would likely adopt that type of payment plan.

The DOJ’s second issue is how Google restricts the use of Maps data for app and website developers. A quick read through the Google Maps Platform Terms of Service and you’ll come across a huge list of things you’re not allowed to do with Google Maps data. Section 3.2.3, “Restrictions Against Misuse of the Services” contains wild clauses like “No re-creation of Google products or features”. Basically, you are not allowed to use Google Maps data to compete with Google in any way. You can’t use Maps data with a text-to-speech service because Google already does. You cannot use Maps data to create a navigation service as this would compete with Google Maps. You are not allowed to use the Google Maps API in a car at all as it would compete with Android, Android Automotive and a number of other products.

The Google Maps Platform Pricing Calculator.  That goes for pages.
Enlarge / The Google Maps Platform Pricing Calculator. That goes for pages.

The next clause, “No Use with Non-Google Maps,” states that you may not combine Google Maps data with other mapping services. You cannot view other map data on it screen as Google Maps data, and you cannot link Google Maps content to non-Google Maps content.

Developers using the Google Maps platform must pay Google for each user request for Maps data. There are dozens of APIs for things like driving directions, autocomplete, place details, place photos, street view photos, static maps, dynamic maps, and time zone lookups, all of which keep adding to your bill. As a developer you could theoretically search for the best price for each API call from different providers and compare Google to services like Microsoft Azure Maps, Here, TomTom, OpenStreetMap and many other providers. In reality, the Google Maps Terms require that if you use a Google Maps API, you must give Google Maps a monopoly over your service.

At this time, that investigation is in its early stages and investigators have not recommended a lawsuit. But a lawsuit would be the next step.


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