Exclusive: US Google Maps probe ramps up – sources

  • Exclusive: US Google Maps probe ramps up – sources

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has reinvigorated an investigation into Google Maps to determine whether bundling the service with other Google software is illegally stifling competition, according to two sources familiar with the matter. .

The investigation into the Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) unit first came to light in late 2020 and had remained silent until recent months when investigators resumed investigating, the sources said.

Google said it is cooperating with regulators and welcomes their questions. The Justice Department declined to comment.

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The probe has two components.

Part of it focuses on apps, including for navigation, which are delivered via infotainment screens in vehicles. In its Google Automotive Services package for automakers, the research company bundles Maps, the Google Play app store, Google Assistant and other services. Automakers cannot, for example, mix Google Maps with voice assistants developed by smaller competitors, a source said.

In response, Google said the integration provides the best user experience, and in some cases a competing voice assistant can work with Google Maps.

The other component focuses on app and website developers. Specifically, the department is reviewing Google’s requirement that if a website or app uses Google technology, such as Google’s location search, the website or app developer cannot use maps. or other technologies developed by Google’s rivals, the two sources said.

A congressional antitrust panel concluded in a 2020 Big Tech staff report that Google “aggressively enforces this provision” and effectively forces developers “to choose whether to use all of Google’s mapping services or none of them.” ‘between them”.

Google said its policies are aimed at preventing bad experiences, noting that mixing a Google map with information on another map could lead to errors. The policies also stem from restrictions imposed by partners on how Google can use their data, he said.

The policies have a few exceptions, and Google added that developers “are also free to use other map services in addition to Google Maps Platform – and many do.”

MONEY AND DATA AT GAME

Two developers told Reuters in the past year that they had received infringement notices from Google in recent years after mixing data from the company’s services with maps from other providers. The developers said competing options were cheaper or more detailed than Google Maps in some cases.

The developers, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from Google, also expressed concern that the company’s new privacy options for users of its Android mobile operating system could limit data collection. data from competing mapping providers.

Money and data are at stake, including people’s locations and interests. Google does not separately disclose license sales of map-related tools. But over the years, Google has increased mapping fees and tied the company to its Cloud unit, whose sales growth is of keen interest to investors.

Additionally, the sustained use of Google’s mapping services allows the company to collect more data to maintain its dominance over competing options.

Bundling products together isn’t always illegal, but antitrust authorities have stepped in when such bundling doesn’t benefit consumers.

In 1998, the government sued Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) for allegedly violating antitrust law by tying its operating system monopoly to Internet Explorer to crush rival browser Netscape.

There is no indication that department staff investigating Google Maps recommended that they prosecute, one of the sources said.

Google is already fighting a lawsuit the department filed in 2020, accusing it of violating antitrust law to maintain its dominance over search and search advertising. He will go to trial in 2023.

A lawsuit has long been expected against Google for its dominance of the online advertising industry. Read more This investigation is more advanced than that in the card sector, a source said.

The antitrust authority could be hampered in concluding the long-running investigations as it has been overwhelmed with an unusually high number of merger reviews and merger-related lawsuits. A merger lawsuit is expected in April and two more are expected in August.

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Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Paresh Dave in Oakland, California. Editing by Chris Sanders and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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