Google Maps and Microsoft Bing Maps offer free and commercial (paid) licensing arrangements that enable governments, non profit organizations as well as commercial entities to leverage map technology for data visualization in a way never so easily accessible in the past.

Both companies offer base data, tools for advanced geospatial tasks such as geocoding, routing, etc. as well as API’s for map creation and publishing.  All of this seems particularly attractive when one considers that it is free.

But as the saying goes “there’s no such thing as a free lunch….”

So what should one consider when considering building map visualization applications on top of one of these platforms?  Are there risks associated with going down this road?

Consider that:

  • In both Google and Microsoft’s case, the services the offer are “as is” with no commitment to long term availability, level of service or that these services will continue to be offered free of charge;
  • Use of the free services prohibits you from charging for the use of your application;
  • Google and Microsoft retain the rights to include advertising with applications/mash ups utilizing their mapping services;
  • Both companies retain the right to use your data for their purposes; and
  • You are required to indemnify Google and Microsoft against any claims that might arise from a user of your application.

And, the two companies may impose other constraints around issues such as the number of geocodes you are allowed to make, the use of their service for mobile applications, numbers of users that can access the application, etc.

None of this is to say that choosing to build your application on Google Maps or Bing Maps is a bad idea – just that you need to consider all the implications.

In some cases, you may elect to use their commercial (paid for) versions or consider other alternatives.