The World Wide Web of Licensing Map Data

Oct 1, 2007  |  Michael Wurzer

There are two primary companies that create street map data: NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas. The traditional focus of both of these companies has been in-car navigation. However, more recently, both companies have liberally licensed their data to web mapping portals like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, MapQuest/AOL, etc. If you go to any of those sites and look at the bottom of the maps, there almost always will be a copyright attribution to one or the other of these companies.

What’s most interesting today, however, is that these web portals are turning around and making the street maps available to any public web site (not private ones, like MLS systems) for free. In other words, when NAVTEQ or TeleAtlas licenses their data to Google, they also effectively are licensing it to all of Google’s customers and the web sites they power, such as Trulia, RE/MAX, etc., for free. (Well, actually, RE/MAX, through eNeighorhoods, is listed as an enterprise customer for Google, so maybe they are paying, but that would be strange since Google’s API is free for public sites like RE/MAX’s.) Anyway, I can hardly imagine what Google must have to pay NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas for this nearly unlimited extension to their license.

This story gets even more interesting now with devices like the iPhone or the Treo, which have the Google maps application installed, which comes awfully close to a navigation system. The only thing missing is making the Google maps application location aware, which can’t be far aware given that most of the phones have GPSs built in for 911 emergency purposes. Once Google maps is location aware, haven’t they completely cannibalized the traditional space of NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas?

The license agreements these companies have with Google, Yahoo!, etc., undoubtedly already prevent Google from using the map data for location aware directions, and these agreements are likely to get even stricter for NAVTEQ now that Nokia has purchased them. This acquisition may not have hit the radar of everyone in the real estate business yet, but, trust me, this one is going to have a big impact on real estate practitioners, which can really benefit from wireless systems, including mapping.

Also, what will Nokia’s purchase do to NAVTEQ’s long-term relationship with Google and their public API? Will Google be compelled to purchase TeleAtlas to protect themselves? Undoubtedly a good part of NAVTEQ’s revenue was in their deal with Google, which had to pay a lot of money to NAVTEQ, but Nokia may be more inclined to take a different direction than the free APIs allow. All I can say is that I’m glad we aren’t relying on any free API’s for our products, because I’d hate to be betting my business on their long-term continued availability when “Google may modify the Terms of Use at any time with or without notice”.

Update:  Reading O’Reilly’s post about this same topic, I’m reminded that TeleAtlas was bought by Tom-Tom, another hardware manufacturer (GPS instead of phones).    (The NAVTEQ deal caught my attention more, because we license NAVTEQ data for use in our MLS software.)  Wow, that the two primary sources of street mapping data are now owned by companies with interests in conflict with Google and others interested in local search bodes for some very interesting negotiations down the road.   The GPS and web world are being smashed (not just mashed) together, and the street map data stands between.

13 Responses to “The World Wide Web of Licensing Map Data”

  1. Dan Woolley says:

    That last sentence about terms of use is why you must purchase the Enterprise license if you are going to rely on it for a major site like Google reserves the right to restrict hits per day (and they do), and to add advertising at any time (I’m only aware of one site where they are testing the waters with this). Luckily, the fierce holy war that Google and MS are fighting now for hearts and minds of developers has driven the price of unlimited map traffic down way below their quoted rates.

    Google’s stated mission is to organize all the world’s information. Mapping is an absolutely critical piece of information. Having mapping data controlled by only two major entities, and worse two new owners, I would imagine is an untenable situation for them. Seems like they’ve got to make a move soon.

  2. What moves are left? Perhaps they’ll buy Nokia? 😉 Seriously, it seems like they fell asleep on this one or the TeleAtlas deal. $6 billion is a lot of money but not for Google. I don’t hold out a lot of hope that OpenStreetMap will reach the level of completeness or accuracy of NAVTEQ or TA any time soon. 🙂

  3. 6 billion!? What the hell are we doing???

    Dan, I’m going to buy a compass, you get some butcher paper and a lot of pencils so we can get our new mapping business started.

    Cartographers of the world unite!


  4. Hehe, no doubt! I’ll throw in a ruler if you bring me along for the ride.

  5. Dan Troup says:

    So this is where you guys hang out.

  6. Robbie says:

    According, to the Seattle Times, Nokia is saying Navteq would still support its existing customers as before. I think Nokia would make more money & friends if it didn’t piss off Navteq’s biggest customers, so I’m tempted to take Nokia at it’s word.

    MS Virtual Earth gets it’s data (both road & imagery) from at least 10 different sources (Navteq, NASA, Harris Corp, USGS, Earthstar Geographics, Pictometry, EarthData, Getmapping, Blom, MapData Sciences, and Zenrin to name the ones I know about), so I suspect it would not be mortal blow even if Navteq did go private with it’s data.

    Besides, what’s to prevent MS (or Google) from starting a Navteq / TeleAtlas competitor? Or lobbying the US govt from blocking the Nokia/Navteq merger? Or lobbying the US govt to increase the USGS / US Census TIGER budget to the point where it’s data is competitive with commercial efforts?

    I think they both have $10+ billion in cash, so it’s not like they couldn’t afford to go to war with Nokia/Navteq, if it came to that. Either way, it’ll be very interesting to see how this story plays out.

  7. Mr Troup!

    No wonder you’re so smart, you read Mike’s blog!

    : )

  8. Dan Woolley says:

    Question – where is Rand McNally when everyone is talking about mapping? Just ten years ago, these guys were the top company. We used them and their product and service were great. I think they are a private, midwest company. Seems like they have all the data – at least US data – and are just behind the tech curve. That would be perfect for Google, unless the lack of international data is a deal killer for them.

    Also MapQuest. These guys started it all (I believe), seem to have all the data, but again have been left behind technology-wise. Seeing the recent acquisitions, these guys are probably flying between Seattle and Mountain View with their hands out.

  9. I know MapQuest uses both NAVTEQ and TA data, they don’t generate their own. I’m not sure about Rand McNally.

  10. Robbie says:

    Dan, I believe Google uses DeCarta DDS as it’s rendering engine and buys the map data from many different vendors (Navteq, Zenrin, Europa Technologies, etc). I don’t think Rand McNally offers them anything that they need or don’t already have.

    Mapquest is owned by AOL, so I think they are officially a part of the living dead at this point (like Netscape).

  11. MattL says:

    I can add that I know Google’s biggest expense Re: mapping is navigation; they pay NAVTEQ on a per-route basis, and it’s not cheap.


  12. Jeannean says:

    Greg, if you want to get in on the ground floor, go to China. They’re building new roads like crazy but apparently no one’s making maps.

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