Google and Its Mapping Data Providers

It’s not necessarily common knowledge that Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft don’t produce the data for their maps; they buy it from other companies. But because they’re the front end, sometimes people make the assumption that it’s Google operatives running around with GPS receivers; rather, it’s companies like NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas (see previous entry).

Which means that web mapping services are dependent on other companies for their data — and sometimes that data comes with strings attached. Which brings me to this don’t-miss post on O’Reilly Radar by Nathan Torkington that points out that the maps from the Google Maps API are slightly different from those from Google Maps/Local proper, because the NAVTEQ data isn’t being used for the API. Writes Nat: “[I]t’s a safe bet that Google has had a battle with NAVTEQ to offer their free API.” Nat speculates that NAVTEQ objects to Google offering the data for free rather than as a commercial product.

In other words, the data providers are making some noise about how their data is being used by the web mapping services. Commenting on the above post on All Points Blog, Adena Schutzberg writes:

The data providers do hold all the cards just now. And, each time the technology providers find a new way to try to “take advantage” of that data, the data folks must respond. Recall when clever people used desktop MapPoint for routing/tracking and Microsoft came back in the 2003 license and put a cap on the number of vehicles that could be tracked in real time? In fact, it was NAVTEQ, then Navigation Technologies, that forced the change.

There’s a lot more going on than what we see through our web interfaces.

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