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US Justice Department is investigating two antitrust issues concerning Google Maps

In brief: Is bundling YouTube Music, Google Assistant, and Play Store with Google Maps for vehicle infotainment systems stifling competition from similar third-party apps? That’s what the DoJ wants to know. It also intends to look at the company’s terms of service to see if it is exercising monopolistic behavior in its mapping APIs.

According to anonymous sources, the US Department of Justice Department is investigating Google to determine if its Maps app breaks any antitrust laws. Insiders familiar with the situation told Reuters that the DoJ looked at two potential issues.

The first is concerning Google’s infotainment operating system Android Automotive. A selling point for any infotainment system is a GPS. Google Maps serves this purpose perfectly. However, if car manufacturers want Maps included, Google requires they also install Play Store, Google Assistant, YouTube Music, and various other first-party apps. The Justice Department believes this might stifle consumer choice and hinder other apps from competing.

Google does the same thing with phone manufacturers, but the DoJ does not appear to be concerned with that. It’s strange because, by comparison, Android mobile dwarfs Android Automotive by a longshot. Ars Technica notes that the vehicle OS is only available in select Volvos, the GMC Hummer EV, and upcoming 2023 Ford cars. In contrast, Android has a smartphone install base of about 2.5 billion.

The second issue of contention with Google Maps is how its terms of service (ToS) limit how developers and websites can use map data. In particular is Section 3.2.3 of the ToS, which says third-party developers or services “cannot re-create Google products or features.” For example, a third-party navigation program cannot use Maps APIs because it would directly compete with Google Maps.

Another stipulation is that developers have to pay Google for every call for map data. There are dozens of APIs for various map functions, including directions, location details, street view, etc. For a developer, usage costs can add up fast. They could potentially mix and match APIs from other services like TomTom or OpenStreet Map to bring the expenses down. However, Google’s ToS state that it’s all or nothing — if you use even one Google Maps API, you cannot use any competing services.

Currently, the investigation is in the early stages. If the DoJ feels Google is exercising monopolistic power with its mapping service, it will recommend filing a lawsuit.

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Image credit: BigTunaOnline

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