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Google sends anti-regulation propaganda to small businesses using Google Maps (arstechnica.com)
346 points by cpeterso 74 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 137 comments

Google Maps may silently be Alphabet's most powerful property. As someone who has spent the last 8 months religiously degoogling my life, I've found that Google Maps features are incredibly hard to replace, while at the same time, giving Google direct abilities to influence behavior in the physical world. People see it as "just a map", but it's so much more. OSM-based map tools are pretty good as maps, but they utterly fail at being real-world information directories and functional tools for coordinating physical activities.

I do have hope. It seems that there has been a lot of new enthusiasm for these tools lately, and some of them have key features in development.

Two low hanging fruits: 1) location bookmarking features that can be synced between mobile/desktop with third party sync tools. 2) Link conversion features that can take Google Maps (or other map links) as input and open the location in OSM tools, and vice-versa.

The real-world information directory is a much bigger challenge, but if the low hanging fruit features are developed enough that the average person could easily use open source / OSM tools for everything except a modern phone book, while still coordinating with peers who use Google Maps, then we'd have a much better foundation for tackling the issue.

The data directory part of OSM is being improved by an interesting way:


Basicaly a gamified editor that makes it easy and fun to fill in opening hours and onther important metadata while on the go. Frankly its almost addictive. :)

StreetComplete is a very user-friendly way to start contributing to OSM without needing to know anything about how OSM stores data. Looking up OSM keys/values for data entry can be tedious, and it's incredible how StreetComplete bypasses that completely. Most OSM editors work best on a large screen, but StreetComplete makes it quick and easy to contribute on mobile.

Another great tool for contributing to OSM is MapWithAI. It uses computer vision to identify the shapes of buildings and roads in satellite imagery, so that you can add them to the map with one click. The AI assistance considerably speeds up the process of adding items to the map, saving you from drawing them by hand.

MapWithAI is integrated with a fork of the online OSM editor (RapiD), which can also be used without learning about the technical details of OSM. If your area is missing a lot of buildings or roads in OSM, and you'd like to improve the maps, I encourage you to give it a try:


Thank you for this!

I try to use OSM as much as possible and this is perfect for me to contribute info on the go from now on.

> Basicaly a gamified editor that makes it easy and fun to fill in opening hours and [other] important metadata while on the go. Frankly its almost addictive. :)

When I read your description, I thought that maybe it was an app that prompted you to take a picture of the operating hours sign at a store when you visit, then sends the picture to a queue for someone to do the actual entry. The actual app is entirely different, but my idea might allow even more casual users, like me, to contribute. I don't have time to play an AR game like that, but I could easily snap a few pictures or answer some simple questions when I'm on the go.

The Street Complete supports that as well - you can add a note with an (optional) picture and many of the "quests" have that option as well.

In the past I have created a few of those ("gate is no longer there"/"way is blocked by trees", "there is a new ATM at this spot") and some of them have already been addressed (you get an email when it happens).

I think OSM is amazing. Way better at mapping than Google. When I hike I'm just walking in a green square in Google maps. OSM has every trail and hillslope etc.

But what OSM lacks is real-time integration with public transport. If my bus is slow or redirected Google will tell me. I don't think this can be improved by the users. It really needs a data feed from the transport operators :'(

Transportr is a decent Android app for getting public transport directions with OSM. https://f-droid.org/packages/de.grobox.liberario

Missing real-time service updates, but otherwise good.

I've found that overall, for public transport, HERE maps is a feasible alternative in most cases, here's a quick example of how a route might look (though there is a mobile app available as well, IMO the performance is much better than Google Maps'): https://wego.here.com/directions/publicTransport/Riga-Intern...

Now, of course, Google probably still has more real time data in this regard, especially since it's possible for them to aggregate it due to a large amount of users and so on.

It would be nice to have more FOSS projects pop up that would deal with providing company listings and reviews on the map like Google does, as well as would provide more real time transport information as well. But hey, at least OSM gives us a really good starting point, the rest is a matter of building it and getting the data!

HERE WeGo is a great alternative to Google Maps. It works on Android, iOS, and web. Business data is pulled from TripAdvisor.

(The app store ratings for HERE WeGo are a bit low because they recently rewrote the app and the first few versions were unstable. The rewrite added lane guidance, which is a useful feature to have for driving directions.)

- HERE WeGo (web): https://wego.here.com

- HERE WeGo (Android): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.here.app.m...

- HERE WeGo (iOS): https://apps.apple.com/us/app/here-wego-maps-navigation/id95...

If the quality of the OSM data in your area is good, the best OSM-based apps are:

- Organic Maps (FOSS, simple interface): https://organicmaps.app

- OsmAnd (FOSS, loaded with features): https://osmand.net

- Magic Earth (proprietary, uses a non-OSM data source for address locations): https://www.magicearth.com

All 3 of these apps support both Android and iOS.

Watch out - it has Facebook malware in it. The app constantly pings Facebook in the background and includes device data (and potentially location data?).

Are you referring to HERE WeGo? I just did a network monitoring test run and I do see that it connects to (Facebook) when the app is opened, but it doesn't seem to make any more connections after that. That is interesting and something I haven't noticed before. Thanks for mentioning it.

Exodus says that HERE WeGo has 1 tracker (Facebook Login):

- Exodus report for HERE WeGo: https://reports.exodus-privacy.eu.org/en/reports/com.here.ap...

Organic Maps, OsmAnd, and Magic Earth have no trackers:

- Exodus report for Organic Maps: https://reports.exodus-privacy.eu.org/en/reports/app.omaps/l...

- Exodus report for OsmAnd: https://reports.exodus-privacy.eu.org/en/reports/net.osmand/...

- Exodus report for Magic Earth: https://reports.exodus-privacy.eu.org/en/reports/com.general...

I have captured traffic from the iOS app a couple years ago or so and saw frequent contacts to Facebook domains; this is indeed due to the Facebook SDK which contacts FB regardless of whether you use Facebook features or not (I definitely did not).

It may have changed since then and if so that's great!

I had missed some information on my network monitoring app (RethinkDNS[1]) and updated my last comment before seeing your reply! You're right about the connections to a Facebook server, though I'm only seeing the connections when the app is cold-started on Android. I haven't had the chance to test on iOS.

The Facebook Android[2] and iOS[3] SDKs are source-available.

From a privacy perspective, when someone compares Google Maps to HERE WeGo, the question is whether using Google or HERE (plus the Facebook SDK) would be more of a privacy violation. I don't have a good answer to this question.

But from a market share perspective, HERE WeGo is a minor player compared to Google and using it instead of Google Maps would help curb Google's market dominance in mapping.

Of course, if a free and open source OSM-based app is viable for your area, I would go for that instead.

[1] https://f-droid.org/it/packages/com.celzero.bravedns/

[2] https://github.com/facebook/facebook-android-sdk

[3] https://github.com/facebook/facebook-ios-sdk

> the question is whether using Google or HERE (plus the Facebook SDK) would be more of a privacy violation

Well unless you absolutely never use Google (which is hard), you're better off using Maps (as they track you anyway from occasional usage), where as it's easier to never use Facebook (in fact all Facebook IPs are outright blocked on my networks) so it's better to not provide any data to them at all.

So for me if I had to choose I'd prefer Google (who probably track me anyways during occasional usage of their services) over Facebook which aren't supposed to track me at all since I never use their services (and since I avoid all apps with FB malware in them, I don't think they can track me).

In my case I use Apple Maps which works well enough for me. I wish OSM-based alternatives were as good when it comes to POI searching but in London I found that OSM is even worse than Apple.

Apple incorporates OSM data into its maps for some regions, and Apple is also the most prolific corporate data contributor to OSM,* so I agree that Apple Maps is a great alternative to Google Maps. Unfortunately, it's not available on Android or as a web app.

* https://joemorrison.medium.com/openstreetmap-is-having-a-mom...

DuckDuckGo implements Apple Maps on the web; e.g. see https://duckduckgo.com/?q=london&ia=web&iaxm=maps

Apple uses (and contributes back to) OSM in many places.

Organic Maps has been my go to maps since it came out. Fantastic navigation features, and felt no different than using Google Maps. The best part? It doesn't any internet connection to work!

Thanks for the additional links, it's nice to have that many options!

In Seattle at least, Google Maps real time public transport support was way behind an app called OneBusAway which was built as a graduate project by students at the University of Washington (https://opentransitsoftwarefoundation.org/overview/history/)

I had this app for at least a year before Google Maps released similar functionality. I still use it occasionally as the UX is better if you already know what bus stop you want to use.

I’ve tried to switch to Apple maps a few times. Most recently was last weekend I used it for navigation directions. The problem this time was on Google maps your route in the display is annotated with small white arrows at the point where you turn off your current road on to a turning or slip road. On Apple maps you don’t get that, you just see a continuous blue curve with no visual indication where the turns are. Back to Google!

The problem with Apple Maps is that it's just monumentally stupid, for lack of a better term.

I live in east London, and the other day I searched for directions to "Barbican", which is both a tube station and landmark in central London. My transport preference in the app is set to public transport.

Apple Maps gave me driving directions to an island called "Barbican" in the middle of the sea somewhere.

To be fair, Google Maps is also stupid:

I once planned in advance and saved a trip with intermediary steps ending at what it calls "Domicile" (its way of saying Home in french). The next day I open the trip and the destination is no longer my home but a place doing home cleaning close to my start...

It's beyond stupid. It does the same thing for me, I'm in the UK, I search for something and it gives me a location somewhere in the US.

I just tried and it came up with Barbican centre and Barbican tube, might be worth updating to the latest version as there seem to have been a lot of improvement on the London map. Walking guidance also works better in Apple maps for me (especially with the watch). Still I also do find myself using Google Maps a lot of the time despite preferring the Apple one on privacy / design grounds.

So, how was the island?

I've experienced similar things, seems like one of the simpler problems to solve.

The worst part of Apple Maps is bizarre Yelp integration. I have to install an app and register just to see photos and read reviews?

Other than that it works pretty well for me.

I got rid of Google maps as well, the things I am missing are:

1) Search, Goolge maps is simply best in class here. Looking for whatever, Google maps finds the location or address

2) Route planning, either I am too stupid but most other solutions make it hard to chnage the starting point or add waypoints

Have to agree, Google Maps for everyday navigation is just the best. Even if routing used to be better, IMHO.

>2) Route planning, either I am too stupid but most other solutions make it hard to chnage the starting point or add waypoints

OpenRouteService work great for that, but there is no traffic prevision/live information. https://maps.openrouteservice.org/#/

I think we'll have to have regulators step in at some point in another area - nowadays more and more cars are shipping with Android Automotive where Google Maps are the main(and only) map provider for the satnav. So no matter how you feel about Google - you have to use their product to operate the car fully.

> Google Maps are the main(and only) map provider for the satnav

Source? I've never heard of this. Maps has no relationship to the car's built-in navigation anyway.

Every car I've used with Google Maps has both, but you have to pay a fee to use the built-in navigation app.

As an example- new Volvos come with Android Automotive as the main OS, and the satnav is just Google Maps. There is no alternative built in. If you don't want google services then you have no satnav at all. Since the main instrument cluster also shows Google Maps if you disable it it just stays completely empty(only displaying basic information like speed and gear you're in).

Source: I drove one.

Second source: https://youtu.be/d8RJsXePE2M?t=28

That's a car with "Android OS" -- it's not just some random car.

Complaining about Google Maps on that car is like complaining about Google Maps on your Google Home screen. If you buy a car that is advertised as having Google software, you're going to get Google software.

Yes, but my point is that more and more cars are scheduled to have this as default. So going forward it will be harder and harder to escape the total and complete domination of Google Maps everywhere. That's why I said regulators will have to get involved at some point.

Except that's also an issue with Volvo and Polestar being late at implementing CarPlay.

Renault & GM, both of which demoed their AAOS version, enabled both CarPlay and Android Auto, so you could use another nav "app" with Android Automotive via projection.

> Google Maps may silently be Alphabet's most powerful property.

Except it's easy for a competitor to scrape Maps and build their own using OSM.

Except it's not. Apple has basically unlimited resources and tried. While it's a decent navigation option at this point, it continues to fall short wrt everything else if compared to Google maps.

If you have unlimited resources, you can try to contact all business owners and ask them if they would like a presence on Apple Maps.

They didn't do that, so my conclusion is either they don't have unlimited resources or they simply didn't really try hard enough.

If Google Maps was little more than a glorified business directory, you might have a point. But nothing else comes close in terms of features and user experience, certainly not Apple Maps.

You missed the entire point of my comment, which is that Google Maps is far more than a maps app, and until competitors realize that, they're bound to fail.


This is inexcusably disgusting. Reminds me of the bullshit Amazon feeds their employees about unions.

I may be wrong since i'm not american, but it seems like unions are generally a controversial topic in the US.

Not all people realize the bargaining power of a huge corporation is much different than that of an individual.

If a company of 100 people fires a worker, they lose 1% of productivity. If a worker loses their job, they lose 100% of income. This fundamental asymmetry makes me support unions.

On top of that, the corporation can afford paying to shift people's opinions.

I don't really get this argument. You lose 100% of income, assuming this is your only job, but only until you get another one, which could be right away, and in the meantime if they terminate you without cause you get unemployment for long enough that most people will be able to find another job.

Meanwhile this criticism is inversely correlated with the utility of a union. If you're in a market where the company is hiring unskilled fungible peons, and you try to unionize, they can just let the union walk out and hire a bunch of different unskilled fungible peons. So it doesn't work for e.g. Amazon warehouse workers.

For a strike to mean anything, the company has to have high turnover costs in replacing employees or a scarcity of skilled labor. But then that's true of the individual employees as well. So then it isn't needed for e.g. programmers to be able to negotiate beneficial working conditions, and you're paying the overhead for what you could get without it.

What does that leave for where the union is doing something good?

>they can just let the union walk out and hire a bunch of different unskilled fungible peons. So it doesn't work for e.g. Amazon warehouse workers

there's no way Amazon could come close to functioning if their warehouse workers unionized and walked out. it would take them years to find enough people to fully staff their warehouses again and it'd cost them billions of dollars

They have warehouses all over the country and all over the world. If any of them shut down, they could temporarily send product from the others.

Why would it take years to find more unskilled labor? They could literally park a bus in front of the unemployment office in the morning, load people onto it and be running again by the end of the day.

At least three reasons:

1) A whole lot of propaganda effort has gone into spreading anti-union sentiment for at least over a century, from the very deep pockets of the richest private actors in the world, like Amazon. Since they managed to capture half the politicians, it has become a culture war issue to the point that being pro and anti union is more a marker of personal identity than a reasoned position.

2) Historically, America's largest unions were often controlled by organized crime, which prevented competition and fixed prices at an artificially high level so mob bosses could get a cut and "consultants" who didn't actually do anything could be put on payroll so someone who owned 20 houses without having a real job could deflect scrutiny from the IRS. Since a lot of what was priced so high because of this was public works construction, it impacted everyone, and gave unions generally a bad reputation.

3) People like me who have never been in a "real" union, but still might have stupid one-off college jobs that nonetheless required you to join a union, have their only exposure come through something ineffective that isn't providing any actual benefits but is taking a cut of your already low pay anyway. For whatever reason, I had to join a union to work at Disneyland, but that didn't prevent me from making $10 an hour, didn't prevent my friend from practically getting her leg burned off and having it blamed on her with no disability assistance, and didn't prevent me from getting laid off when they downsized entertainment.

On the other hand, my dad was a plumber and his union seemed to bring him real benefit. But in a white collar environment like Hacker News, or pretty much anywhere you're likely to hang out on the Internet, anyone who has ever been in a union at all was more likely in something like the Disneyland union.

> On the other hand, my dad was a plumber and his union seemed to bring him real benefit.

Unions for licensed professionals are more lobbying organizations than labor representation. Their goal (which they often achieve) is, effectively, regulatory capture to create a barrier to entry into that labor market and drive up scarcity to increase prices.

It's a similar dynamic to public sector unions -- they're really negotiating with the government, and if the union is large enough then they're a significant voting constituency, so it's like a large shareholder in a publicly traded company using their influence over the organization to have the organization engage in self-dealing with the shareholder's other business.

Huh, i guess i learned some new things today. I heard about allegations of them being criminal. Usually i'd file such claims under "conspiracy crap", because until now nobody bothered to explain why.

Also i didn't know that being in a union can be mandatory. Here in Germany it's up to you if you want to be part of it or not. With it comes plenty of advantages, like legal protection insurance for work related legal issues. You can go to a consultant that will look up your case and - if necessary - give it to a lawyer. They even offer help to people who want to become self-employed. All for a quite low monthly fee.

Unions in Germany are sort-of mandatory. In the sense that whatever the unions negotiate also has legal consequences for non-union members. See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarifbindung

About legality: have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-show_job and https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/nyregion/no-show-jobs-tai...

Unions are relatively controversial everywhere. In the UK and other parts of Europe, for instance, they also divide opinion, either generally or in specific cases where they are accused of over-reach.

In the US I get the impression they are more controversial, perhaps because they are less common (so it is easier for those against to make mountains out of molehills because the public in general are less aware where the truth ends and the spin starts), perhaps because the US is more openly capitalistic (the old “in America many see themselves as temporarily inconvenienced millionaires, not middle-/working-/poor-class”) and unions are seen as a serious blocker in that frame of mind, perhaps because of the history if the word union by opposing political powers, most likely because of a mix of the above and the amount of shouty misinformation anything attracts from the likes of Fox “news” and similarly crap (but in some cases differently biased) outlets generate on every subject.

But they are definitely a controversial topic elsewhere too.

In Germany it's not as bad as in the US. It's more of a mixed bag. Some people are pro, some are con and some don't care. But there is not that amount of pure hatred against unions. There are some unions that retrieve heavy criticism, because of their behaviour in negotiations or public announcements. But we don't want to get rid of all of them.

I guess on average Germany is just not as polarized about unions (and other things) as the US.

If you only ever look online, you would say that American unions mostly have fanatical proponents. (Because people who express opinions online are more likely to be leftist, I guess, and everything about American politics is polarised.)

And Amazon employees are, of course, so stupid that they only even listen to propaganda and can't think for themselves.

Yeah, if only those stupid warehouse workers would listen to me, the enlightened tech worker who is making many multiples of what they are. I know what is best for you!

You realize how disgustingly patronizing you sound?

The comment you're replying to is, I think, sarcastic. The point being that the Amazon employees aren't that stupid and can think for themselves. Maybe they're just not interested in joining a union that Amazon could easily allow to walk out and hire a different set of unskilled workers.

Your sibling comment is the patronizing one.

Thanks, yes. I was being exceedingly sarcastic.

I do very much believe that by-and-large Amazon employees adults in their warehouses who can think for themselves.

(The weasel phrase 'by-and-large' is in there, because in any big enough group of people you'll always have a few fools, and their existence shouldn't detract from my argument.

And also perhaps Amazon also managed to hire some people with real medical / clinically diagnosed cognitive impairments and give them productive jobs. The latter would be great news for diversity and inclusion, and just general humanity.)

I don't know if you've ever worked in a warehouse before, but they aren't exactly places where there's a lot of intellectual thought happening (or any thought sometimes). It's moving stuff and repetitive tasks and relatively little human interaction. So yes, they probably are more susceptible to propaganda than say, a group of knowledge workers.

It's almost a microcosm of the issue.

OOH, Google can do what they want. Why can't they campaign for or against stuff, enlist their customers, and such. OTOH... Google are the gate to online information. Google "lobbying" is not like a normal company lobbying the public.

They can do what they want, but it's the role of the media to call out bullshit so the public is more informed. That's what this article is doing, pointing out how extreme Google is framing things here while the thruth could be very different.

I disagree.

First, Google (and FB/amzn, which also have dogs in this) are extremely powerful within the media industry. So, their shadow looms very long here.

Second, thinking of these issues as running via media through to an informed public to an attentive political structure is far too naive.

Political mechanisms are rarely about for Vs against. It's about defining the debate, legislation and it's details.

Google have a ton of influence in many sectors. Small businesses are one. News media is another. Enlisting these to achieve their political goals is corporatism.

> First, Google (and FB/amzn, which also have dogs in this) are extremely powerful within the media industry. So, their shadow looms very long here.

In what way? They've received nothing but trashing from media these last few years and very little positive coverage.

For example, many media around here (NL) are positively salivating over Facebook's Metaverse, uncritically chanting like it's the best thing since sliced bread.

Notes on "Now / After" screen: 1. What they don't mention is that first results are usually ads, usually to competition. If you really want to be the first result then your business name is searched, you must pay for an ad too. Just tested this.

2. Hovering over an ad link on Chrome, it shows in bottom bar the link as going to brand.com . How can this be done, it's just an <a href="..."> ? Inspecting or right-click shows the true link to www.googleadservices.com/pagead/aclk...

> Hovering over an ad link on Chrome, it shows in bottom bar the link as going to brand.com . How can this be done, it's just an <a href="..."> ? Inspecting or right-click shows the true link to www.googleadservices.com/pagead/aclk...

Google has been doing this since forever (for any search results too)... They update the link target on-click using javascript to be able to track everything you click on.

Thanks for clarification.

no problem... I always hated this about Google... feels deceptive... I wish that it was not even possible to change the destination of a link when you click on it (most people probably don't even notice it).

on 2: afaik this rewrite of the link target is done throu javascript. it's despicable but apparently the only way for google to count the click.

Am I weird for preferring the "After" screen? It's still got the most relevant result on the top but manages to fit in two other possibly relevant results as well.

Related: “How can we tame the tech giants now that they control society’s infrastructure?” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/06/how-ca...

Slightly off topic.

(I left Facebook et al., threw out all Echos, try to minimize Google)

People treat this as something new. The new is the global. In the past the local newspaper had total control over your business. It might have been easier to deal with the local newspaper than with Google though (from my experience deeling with Google as a small business). On the other hand in a lot of small cities (in Germany), there is a clique of people deciding everything about a city including the journalist from the newspaper, hard to get something changed for you business (At least that was my experience in some startups that were not part of the clique).

That's not true. The local newspaper didn't have control over the paper maps people had and tourists bought, They didn't control the phonebook, they didn't handle your mail, they didn't track every store you entered and article you opened.

I think you gravely overestimate the power that local newspapers had.

They did all the local reviews and reporting on businesses.

YMMV but growing up in the 70s and 80s and working in the 90s in several startups in Germany, the local newspaper and their clique in smaller towns (50-100k people) controlled business perceptions and could make you fly or crash.

I'm happy for Google reviews today, because Google has an agenda, but not about ratings on your businesses - not like the local newspaper which is controlled by the pals of your competition.

I agree. I grew up in a small town in Germany with around 10 - 12k residents. There were only three ways to learn about a new business and the quality it provided: - try it our yourself - read in the paper about the opening and read the review of the local journalist - have others (Neighbors, friends) tell you about it - most often these reports were influenced by the media's/journalist's take on the business.

Nonetheless one could work around the local paper if you were able to get WOM started. At least in special sub cultures/groups. But if you catered for the average Jane (or Joe) you needed the goodwill of the paper. And you had to buy it with advertising (and sometimes outright bribes to the journalist).

And - if there were one or two influential clubs/societies in town like the local sports club or the "Freiwillige Feuerwehr" (local voluntary fire department) you better had their higher ups on your good side and pampered them.

But saying that this isn't new makes it seem like google only replaced the services the local newspaper previously provided. That is not true.

Not the same site/story/perspective.

Google donated too much money to the politicians for anything to change.

I am wondering when GOOG gets in the same bracket as FB / Meta. They have all the necessary ingredients and Youtube gets pretty much sidelined in the entire "FB / Meta / Social Media" discussion.

I cannot comprehend how the developed world gave up the POI landscape to one American company. Without a fight or second thought.

Didn’t Google put a lot of the POI data together themselves? And aren’t there lots of competitors? And nothing but money stopping another player from entering the market?

When Apple Maps got released and everbody made fun of how bad it was, it was revealed that Google Maps had something like 6000 people working on it for years and years, funded through Alphabet corporation's search monopoly and ad revenue.

Not the maps ad revenue, that's a pittance. The search revenue.

And note that a company that was the world's biggest (or nearly so) at the time failed to catch up, and has still failed, despite also dipping deep into an unrelated (near-monopolistic) source of funding. They apparently "only" had 1000 staff.

There aren't lots of competitors, and nobody has a hope in the world of catching up with Google Maps and their illegal use of their monopoly to dominate other markets. Even other companies illegally abusing their own near-monopoly position have failed!

Who cares where in the company money funding it comes from. It's normal for a company to reinvest it's profit from other products to build new ones.

Do you have sources on those employee numbers?

Also, even if Apple had an equal number of employees and worked as fast as Google, of course they wouldn’t be able to catch up. Google has a head start. But it’s not like Apple isn’t leagues ahead of where Google was in 2011 by now.

I worked on Maps for a while. The 6000 number must surely include the contractor army that was authoring the maps themselves. Google is a lot bigger than it once was, but when I worked on it there were perhaps "only" 300-500 engineers working on the project. Still an enormous effort. However there were thousands more people in India working around the clock tracing satellite photos and using street view imagery to create in-house maps. So I can believe the raw number.

I don't understand this take.

Google Maps is one of the world's greatest modern achievements. It's an incredible resource, and it's free. I have no idea what the actual numbers are but if you told me it collectively saved hundreds of billions of dollars a year i wouldn't be surprised. Not to mention the cultural value of being able to teleport virtually anywhere in the world and see the streets, visit places etc.

Isn't it a good thing that Google, for all their ills, put their money to work on this?

Isn't this one of those capitalism success stories so many people here rave about?

A fair number of HN takes are snark and critique I think these days, it's a bit more reddit now?

I think folks underestimate just HOW MUCH data google maps has and how many users it has, and the integration / scale is impressive particularly as some parts of the system are real time. They seem to update both street view and satellite data pretty frequently, and you can go back in time in sat vie as well, so we have a geo and time dimension now.

When I do routing I can route by walking, transit, driving etc. It seems to know every train / bus route and stop and even schedule. It seems to have most businesses. With street view I can zoom from space to a street and see a storefront.

This is stuff the CIA spends $20 billion on and gets a crappy product only 3 users at a time can use in a room.

On the contrary, I see gmaps having map and satellite data that has been and still is out of date for years now. OSM has much more detailed data and is up to date here.

So I really don't see what's so impressive about gmaps. The only major advantage they have is the ability to scoop up data from users, as well as the network effects that lead to people posting their photos and other stuff on Google.

As always, I'd rather have all map data be free & open. It's not cool that all this effort is concentrated in the hands of one company who can do whatever they want and prevent you from doing cool & useful things with the data. Crowdsourced data should belong to the crowd.

> When I do routing I can route by walking, transit, driving etc. It seems to know every train / bus route and stop and even schedule.

Not only that but they seem to route through the "most popular" or "most attended routes" crowdsourced by their unaware users. Meanwhile others just calculate the "best time" or "shortest path" routing.

One thing I regularly encounter is a typical "Tragedy of the Commons" problem with Google Maps. When they do route me, they often tend to route me through residential areas (in Germany these are often traffic reduced areas with respective speed limits). I imagine it is, because these routes tend to be very slightly shorter and often also at least a few seconds shorter in average duration.

I tend to use these "Schleichwege" (short cuts only locals know) as a local - but find me using them more and more when I use Google Maps in areas that i am just not familiar with.

In bigger cities I (anecdotally) see Google routing lots of traffic through these areas that were before mostly quite with only a few locals using them as short cuts. Now many more people are being routed through to combat the typical road congestion and for google to be able to mostly avoid traffic jams for the users.

When considering, that residential streets are not build to encounter this much traffic, they tend to degrade quicker - making the situation even worse for people living there.

I do not have a solution - or even made my mind up what to finally think about this. But this is one "data" point more for me to consider when thinking about costs and benefits to society from such a solution like Google Maps.

In The Netherlands these shortcuts are usually removed or made less attractive. For example, closing a street halfway, so people can still reach both ends, but can't pass through.

Or they build a retractable bollard that will delay traffic during high traffic hours. The delay is just long enough that using the shortcut takes longer than just using the main road.

I would actually love solutions like these. But sadly oftentimes they are not put into place even when the residents fight for it. Additionally the costs of such measures are afterwards invoiced to the residents in most municipalities as they are allowed to have the residents pay for work on the infrastructure.

I remember my father and our whole street fighting (including a court case) against the city because they wanted to rebuild the street at the bottleneck (there was a mud path connecting our street to another one leading to the highway. The neighbors feared a massive traffic increase (and rightly so).

They lost. The city connected the residential area with the other street. And to add insult to injury afterwards all residents had to cover the costs of this measure.

I've wondered about this. I sometimes use it for biking if I'm going to an unfamiliar part of the city, and its biking directions sometimes end up a bit weird, like taking a path that, while slightly shorter, is a bit more uncomfortable (crossing somewhere with busy traffic for example.) I've also noticed that it doesn't know about many easy to cross places that everyone uses and will suggest a longer route to an "official" U-turnable spot.

So, for the sections of the route I know I often ignore its directions and go my preferred way and just let it catch up. Assuming that many other people around here are making the same choices as me (perhaps a big assumption in some cases, definitely not all), it still has kept recommending the less-preferred routes.

The routing has gotten a bit worse I think.

On a drive I do a fair bit it has me do an unprotected left onto a busy 4 lane road with a blind approach from the right. Miserable.

If it kept me on the other main road 10 seconds longer I'd be merging at a light.

There is new "fuel efficient" and other modes - I've wondered if this is throwing it off somehow.

I was on my way to an important meeting and Google Maps had an outage. I panicked, and it took me a good 5 minutes to realize there were other map products that I could use to get directions.

Google doesn't have a search monopoly.

They have over 90% of the search market globally[1].

1. https://sparktoro.com/blog/as-the-antitrust-case-against-goo...

Yes. That doesn't make them a monopoly, though.

> Not the maps ad revenue, that's a pittance

Source? I was under the impression maps are profitable for Google.

one way for making Google maps less relevant would be if all the other companies working on maps, including Apple, would instead curate an open repository, like on OSM. Yes, Google could also make use of it, but it will have to "give back" for example when updating info. I see maps and POIs as an infrastructure-like good, like Linux or Wikipedia, which could be shared and companies could still make money on top of it.

By themselves do you mean how they tricked a bunch of "volunteers" to do it for them with google photos gps metadata scraping, google maps local guides, and Ingress.

Going for a walk in your neighborhood and adding all the POIs to OpenStreetMap is fun btw.

Some people are even using google street view to do this - not sure what the licensing rules if any are there.

Don't stimulate this. It is a legal grey area and actively discouraged by the OSM community. It's just too close to directly copying from Google Maps, which is infringement of their IP.

Morally speaking, any information you derive from a photograph taken in a public area should not be encumbered in any way, but Google's pockets are a little too deep to risk a lawsuit for OpenStreetMap.

Not an attorney, but I always thought google had TOS against using their data to create or augment any other mapping related dataset. So I'm not recommending this either.

Just wanted to mention that while the OSM community get's very bent out of shape around potential copying by google, it's not impossible people are sneaking a peak at street view and google sat data to augment OSM.

Be especially careful if you come across an island that you've never noticed before in any of the photos that you're using.

You look at your own town in a completely different way; it's refreshing.

Good. The government shouldn't be getting in the way of companies trying to make great products and services.

It seems like if you are too good at playing the game people will want the government to slap you with things like anticompete / antitrust to try and give you a handicap since you are too good at being competitive.

Guess what... The more regulation, the harder it is to compete against too-big-to-fail well stablished corporations.

It's like no one here ever heard what regulatory capture or lobby is. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture

Google is right in this case, but people will fail to recognize it, and ask for more state overreach that will end up making it harder to have multiple options in the future.

Competition is important for the well-being of consumers. However, it is in the nature of markets that over time they will experience consolidation and centralization, due to the benefits of network effects and economies of scale. This consolidation reduces competition, harming consumers. It is the necessary role of government to occasionally step in and break up such companies, to forcibly reintroduce competition. That's the form of regulation that we need right now. Break these megacorporations up.

> It is the necessary role of government to occasionally step in and break up such companies, to forcibly reintroduce competition. That's the form of regulation that we need right now. Break these megacorporations up.

What you're mentioning is both unjust and unproductive if the company grows thanks to satisfying customers.

It's also a recipe for disaster:

Trying to break down megacorporations usually ends up creating even bigger megacorporations. You try to do so, and what you end up with is lobby groups, even more powerful conglomerate/holdings well established somewhere they can do it with advantages over the regular Mom and Pop stores that don't have access to this level of economies of scale and so on.

So just because someone was so good at competing that they dominate a market that means that they should be punished? I don't think punishing success provides good incentives.

Google has us all by the balls. As a small business owner, in my particular market, I can't survive without their services, even though they suck and I hate them, and their entire company.

My business can be destroyed by Google on a whim at a moment's notice. How did it get to be so bad?

The best thing to do is add opening hours/other info to Apple Maps, Bing Maps, and OpenStreetMaps once they start allowing that. Right now Google has a monopoly because every local business in most countries just bother updating opening hours in Google Maps, so consumers have no choice but to use it. Apple and Bing aren't open, but at least it would help remove Google's monopoly on useful information.

That's an odd way to frame it. "even though they suck" they don't suck in giving you free traffic though and your complain is that they could stop giving it?

That’s quite often how people view protection rackets. It’s very easy to hate a monopoly that has infested your life.

People used to depend on at&t for business and still hate it back when they owned the entire phone system (including the phone on the wall).

Essentially Google has filled a vacuum where other solutions could have existed, say, something based on the OSM dataset and non-proprietary technologies - possibly a federated set of solutions for finding businesses like cafes, restaurants or shops and such.

Now, it's pretty hard if not impossible to compete with them thanks to the network effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect

How could any company that's interested in being "open" compete with a behemoth that has the advantage of countless engineer-years that have been spent developing their solutions, as well as millions of participants that have given them the data, which probably cannot be legally mined and imported and certainly isn't exported?

The answer is that they can't and being upset about this is probably a valid emotional response, even though it could be worded a bit better.

Edit: I can't help but to think of how the industry handles DNS domains, for example, the .lv domain for my country is looked after by the University of Latvia: https://www.nic.lv/en/about-us

I wonder what a similarly distributed registry of companies, for example, run by the governments of each country (which could then be integrated with the company registers) would look like. Of course, whether the quality of engineering or the overall experience would be up to par with Google's is debatable.

That said, the distributed COVID contact tracing approach that we saw was a little bit like this - even if Google and Apple did a lot of work for the underlying library, each country developed their own contact tracing app and eventually all of those could interoperate. There's no actual reason why the FOSS community couldn't build something like that, but for finding companies etc.

I have no particular expectation that if we were to break up Google, some kind of grand federated system would take its place.

Competitors had decades to get a federated solution together and simply didn't. Attempts got mired in squabbling over data ownership, bickering about costs and fees, failure to agree upon an open protocol, and all manner of other nonsense that Google was able to solve by being a single player and coordinating all the moving parts internally.

They can provide services and still suck (and do), if there's not a viable alternative way to acquire those services. No flaw in OP's logic.

Yes, what gave it away?

> My business can be destroyed by Google on a whim at a moment's notice. How did it get to be so bad?

Market concentration. Almost like you might benefit from some kind of Ending Platform Monopolies Act.

I wonder if they've considered how this kind of messaging could backfire. You tell a bunch of small businesses who don't like you keeping them in a cage that there is some pending legislation and they should write to Congress. They might look into it first. Are you sure you still want them to write to Congress?

OpenStreetMaps could be used as a good enough alternative and could easily be the Wikipedia for Maps, but sadly the search results on Google would never allow that.

Work to get away from them and try to think ahead next time you use online services.

If a significant amount of your new customers find your physical shop through Google maps, what can you do? If someone wants to find a hardware store near them, good chance they'll just write "hardware store" on Google maps. The entry point of people's search is Google - you've already lost the game before it ever started.

I don't use their services and yet my livelihood is entirely dependent on them (and Facebook). That's how bad it is.

You get a service that your livelihood depends on. It seems to me like the proper response is more like gratitude.

I'm very grateful that the mob didn't break my thumbs.

Same way that Apple, Amazon, or Facebook got to where they are: working to give users what users want (or think they want).

Are you aware that both Facebook and Amazon have used their market dominance and ability to buy smaller firms to prevent serious threats from emerging?

Yellow pages has us all by the balls. As a small business owner, in my particular market, I can't survive without their services, even though they suck and I hate them, and their entire company.

My business can be destroyed by Yellow pages on a whim at a moment's notice. How did it get to be so bad?

I don't have a ton of knowledge about Yellow Pages, but something makes me thing that them being in print prevented them from changing the meta at a moment's notice, and therefore being able to destroy any section of businesses at a moment's notice.

Weird analogy since Google killed the yellow pages.

Google as it stands is the worst threat to privacy and security on internet. Far worse than Facebook, Apple or Amazon. It's shocking how much they get away with!


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