In short: Does the bundling of YouTube Music, Google Assistant, and Play Store with Google Maps for vehicle infotainment systems stifle competition from similar third-party apps? That’s what the DoJ wants to know. He also intends to examine the company’s terms of service to see if it exercises monopolistic behavior in its mapping APIs.
According to unnamed sources, the US Department of Justice is investigating Google to determine whether its Maps app violates antitrust laws. Insiders familiar with the situation told Reuters the DoJ looked at two potential issues.
The first is Google’s infotainment operating system, Android Automotive. A selling point for any infotainment system is a GPS. Google Maps fulfills this purpose perfectly. However, if automakers want Maps included, Google requires them to also install Play Store, Google Assistant, YouTube Music, and various other proprietary apps. The Justice Department believes this could stifle consumer choice and prevent other apps from competing.
Google is doing the same with phone makers, but the DoJ doesn’t seem to care. It’s strange because, in comparison, Android mobile eclipses Android Automotive by far. Ars Technica notes that the vehicle OS is only available in select Volvos, the GMC Hummer EV and upcoming 2023 Ford cars. By contrast, Android has a smartphone install base of around 2.5 billion. .
The second contentious issue with Google Maps is how its Terms of Service (ToS) limits how developers and websites can use map data. In particular, Section 3.2.3 of the Terms of Service states that third-party developers or services “may not re-create Google products or features.” For example, a third-party navigation program cannot use the Maps APIs because it would directly compete with Google Maps.
Another stipulation is that developers must pay Google for each map data call. There are dozens of APIs for various map functions, including directions, location details, street view, and more. For a developer, usage costs can add up quickly. They could potentially mix and match APIs from other services like TomTom or OpenStreet Map to reduce expense. However, Google’s terms of service say it’s hit or miss – if you’re using even one Google Maps API, you can’t use any competing services.
Currently, the investigation is in its early stages. If the DoJ believes that Google is exercising monopoly power with its mapping service, it will recommend filing a lawsuit.
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