Google’s dominance in the mapping space is facing a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice. Officials are reportedly looking into whether the tech giant is breaking antitrust laws on its Google Maps app. The DOJ started scrutinizing Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company, for how it bundles the services it offers consumers. This marks the third antitrust inquiry into the company since 2019.
Bloomberg and Politico are both reporting that DOJ officials have been reaching out to Google’s competitors and customers recently to find possible witnesses for what could end up being a lawsuit challenging its dominant grip on location info and digital maps, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.
The terms of service on Google Maps indicate that developers are required to use its bundled services including its search products while using the maps. Google’s terms essentially represent a binding agreement prohibiting developers from combining its information, reviews, and photos on other mapping options.
While Google’s first two antitrust lawsuits are pending, the third could be on the way stemming from the DOJ’s investigation, but sources close to the matter told Bloomberg that the DOJ has not decided to file a case at this time and they haven’t determined what should be included in the complaint.
“Developers choose to use Google Maps Platform out of many options because they recognize it provides helpful, high-quality information,” a Google spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo. “They are also free to use other mapping services in addition to Google Maps Platform – and many do.”
Google Maps hosts a variety of search options when users are looking for establishments by using the Search Near Me tool or pairing with rideshare companies and delivery services—a bundle option that the DOJ argues violates antitrust laws. However, Google told Gizmodo that the company believes it is necessary to keep its data connection to avoid “a bad user experience and erode user trust.” The company says that if the data was integrated with other mapping companies it may not display correctly which could also create “quality issues and potentially even safety risks.”
Competing mapping outlets including Garmin Ltd. and Mapbox Inc. argued against Google’s policies at a Congressional House Hearing in February 2021, where the companies complained about Google’s restrictions.
A 2020 staff report by the House Judiciary Committee found that “Google closely tracks and pressures developers who use Google’s place data in conjunction with mapping data from a non-Google firm, effectively forcing them to choose whether they will use all of Google’s mapping services or none of them.”
The committee further reported that according to one firm, Google’s tactics equate to “a bigger player putting a gun to our head saying, ‘Switch or else.’”