Google Updates Terms of Service for the Google Maps API

Here is some interesting news that may impact developers using the Google Maps API (our Google Maps API profile). Google has recently made a couple of updates to their terms of service and have posted the the new terms of service here. There was an initial update made in early November, but one that lead to some debate and confusion about a couple of points, which in turn to a subsequent update. The net result is that the terms of service have been streamlined and some previous restrictions have been removed, including a restriction on the use of Google Maps in desktop applications. Here's a summary of the changes:

What changed and why? A key goal for the November 12th revision was to eliminate a number of unpopular restrictions, including the prohibition on friend finder applications and non-"site" mashups. We also eliminated ambiguity about whether it's OK to use the API w/ password-protected free sites (it is). Additionally, we streamlined the format of the terms, eliminating the need for developers to reference multiple sets of incorporated terms of service, including the Google Terms of Service and the Google Maps Terms of Service to figure out what rights and obligations applied to their use of the Maps API.

But why the debate and update? In this case it was mostly around Section 11, the "License From You to Google". This section covers how Google may use content that developers create on top of their API. The initial update lead to an active discussion about how much ownership or license Google has to the developer's content. Google listened to the feedback, and within two weeks issued an update and clarification which in turn appears to have addressed these concerns. Here's the udpated ToS section 11.1:

11.1 Content License. Google claims no ownership over Your Content, and You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Your Content. By submitting, posting or displaying Your Content in the Service, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute Your Content through the Service and as search results through Google Services. This license is solely for the purpose of enabling Google to operate the Service, to promote the Service (including through public presentations), and to index and serve such content as search results through Google Services. If you are unable or unwilling to provide such a license to Your Content, please see theFAQ for information on configuring your Maps API Implementation to opt out.

As Google notes in that follow-up post, the bottom line is that the terms of service "gives Google the rights needed to operate a service which overlays content on the map, gives us the ability to showcase popular mashup sites, and allows us to index and provide search over Maps API sites so that Google users can find them." But it does not give Google ownership or copyright of mashups and applications built on top of their service.

Creating and understanding API terms of service are often a challenge, and it's good to see these improvements to Google's terms of service and the responsiveness to feedback from the developer community.

Be sure to read the next Law article: Should APIs Always Be Backwards Compatible?