The World Bank Responds to the Google Map Maker Deal

Earlier this week, we blogged about our concerns over the deal that the World Bank and Google recently announced that encourages the Bank to make Google Map Maker widely available to its client governments and other multilaterals. Our basic concern was that Map Maker's Terms of Service (TOS) appear to lock public data submitted through Map Maker ("Hey, there's a clinic over here!") into a somewhat restrictive license that makes public reuse of that information more difficult than, say, data submitted to OpenStreetMaps.

This morning I had a chance to talk with colleagues within the Bank that were involved in the negotiations with Google. While the Bank plans to issue a more public statement about the deal soon, I wanted to share this initial feedback while the discussion is still fresh in people's minds.

Here's what I heard from the Bank:

  • The Bank was similarly concerned about many of the same issues that we and other observers raised. One reason they proceeded with the deal anyway was that Google Maps/Map Maker offer a "reach" that is difficult to replicate, even with OSM. That trade-off — between reach and openness of the data — was a fairly conscious one. Love it or hate it, it's at least an intellectually honest explanation for why the Bank went with Google. The Bank also feels that this deal helps to push Google in a more "open" direction, which they see as a positive outcome. "More Open in More Places" is how the Bank describes their view of the deal.
  • That said, Bank colleagues went to great lengths to emphasize that the deal with Google is not exclusive, and that they may do similar deals with other mapping providers such as OSM.
  • Where things remain more constrained is around who controls access to the any data submitted through Map Maker via this partnership. The Bank's (laudable) position is that they don't want Google to lock these data away and want a blanket permission from Google to provide NGOs, humanitarian groups, and other non-commercial entities with the data whenever they need it. But that approach wouldn't be entirely consistent with the restrictive Map Maker TOS (which we detailed in our earlier post), so it'll be interesting to see how this shakes out and if it's codified onto paper.
  • There are no immediate plans to release the agreement between Google and the World Bank although this may happen if there continues to be confusion and concern about the deal. Personally, I would vote for releasing the agreement now regardless of whatever both sides' lawyers would rather do.
  • Google's primary concern when it comes to control of data submitted through Map Maker is that it not be provided to commercial competitors such as Bing Maps. This helps to explain Google's greater flexibility with respect to non-commercial uses of Map Maker data, but it appears that anyone wanting to use data submitted through this partnership for commercial purposes will continue to hit a brick wall (including small digital enterprises, which is a shame).

We'll pass along more chatter as we hear it.

— Nathaniel Heller


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