Google’s next antitrust problem in the United States: Google Maps

The Monopoly board game logo, featuring Uncle Pennybags, has been transformed to say Google.
Enlarge / Let’s see, you’ve landed on my “Google Ads” space, and with three houses… that’ll be $1,400.

Ron Amadeo / Hasbro

Google’s latest antitrust headache comes from the US government, which is beginning to challenge how Google bundles Google Maps and blocks developers from using competing services. Nothing is official yet, but Reuters sources say the US Department of Justice “has reinvigorated an investigation into Google Maps to determine whether bundling the service with other Google software is unlawfully stifling competition” .

The DOJ investigation focuses on two Google Maps strategies. The first is surprisingly about Android Automotive – note that it’s not about Android Auto, the phone app. Android-Autopattern (spelled out fully) is a complete operating system that manufacturers can ship to their cars. We covered it on the Polestar 2 last year. As on phones, Google groups its applications on Android Automotive. Google Maps is a killer app in a car, but if manufacturers want Google Maps, Google tells them to take the Play Store, Google Assistant, YouTube Music, and every other car app the company makes. The Department of Justice fears that this requirement will stifle competition.

What’s surprising about this DOJ decision is that the United States never forced Google to do anything about app bundling on Telephone (s, which is a much larger market. Android Automotive is a brand new, very limited operating system available on only about ten vehicles, such as the Polestar 2, other Volvo vehicles such as the XC40 Recharge, GMC Hummer EV and soon 2023 Ford vehicles. to him, is present on approximately 2.5 billion phones worldwide. The US sued Google for limiting app store competition on Android, paying to be the default search engine on most platforms, promoting its own search services, and anti-competitive behavior in the market of The advertisement. But Google is still free to bundle its apps on phones.

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

The North Star

The EU, on the other hand, forced Google to unbundle Chrome and Search from Android and stopped Google from punishing Android makers who use Android source code to create Android forks. Android development has traditionally been ad-supported through bundled Google apps, but European manufacturers now have the option of paying for Android if they don’t want to bundle all Google services. If the DOJ investigation ends up forcing Google to unbundle its apps from cars, that kind of payment plan is likely what it would adopt.

The DOJ’s second issue concerns how Google limits the use of Maps data for app and website developers. Quickly read 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 generic clauses such as “No recreation 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 that. You cannot use data from Maps to create a navigation service, as this would compete with Google Maps. You’re not allowed to use the Google Maps API in a car at all, as that would compete with Android, Android Automotive, and a bunch of other products.

The Google Maps Platform price calculator.  This continues for pages.
Enlarge / The Google Maps Platform price calculator. This continues for pages.

The next disclaimer, “No Use with Non-Google Maps”, indicates that you are not permitted to combine data from Google Maps with any other map service. You cannot display other map data on the same screen as Google Maps data, and you may not link Google Maps content to non-Google Maps content.

Developers using the Google Maps platform must pay Google for each Maps data user request. There are dozens of APIs for things like directions, autocomplete, location details, location photos, street view photos, static maps, dynamic maps, and time zone lookups , which continually increase your bill. As a developer, you could In theory, find the best price for each API call from different providers, comparing Google to services like Microsoft Azure Maps, Here, TomTom, OpenStreetMap, and many other providers. In fact, the terms of Google Maps require that if you are using a Google Maps API, you must give Google Maps a monopoly over your service.

For now, this investigation is only at the preliminary stage, and the investigators have not yet recommended to file a complaint. But a trial would be the next step.