Text has background, envelope, whitespace (leading, kerning, etc.), font, outline, fill (and probably other general properties too). It's not A/B testing but I could see engineers iterating over variations - should the envelope follow the curves of the text or be a box or blob, etc.. All spacing, be it kerning or border-width can be iterated over, colours too - indeed thinking of this makes me want to write an Inkscape plugin to help in font choice.
You can level your objection again but I don't think one would call thinking what shape an outline could be "design" per se. Indeed if you're just presenting alternatives to a user and looking for the one with the best feedback I think you arguably have done away with a design stage.
And I'm sure if you were a little more clever you could find ways to do a similar test on normal google maps users without them knowing it.