Who reads the Terms of Service anyway..

Update : As this discussion has grown in scope, and to allow my colleagues back in the States to follow this important thread can I ask you continue posting comments at

Well in the UK almost everybody involved in the GI industry!

A while ago I made a rather cryptic blog post asking for any information regarding a communication that had been sent from Ordnance Survey to Local Authorities, this is the communication highlighted by Charles in the Guardian yesterday.

As the Guardian article points out the OS was unhappy with local authorities signing up to the Google Maps API terms of service as it required a “broad” re-licensing of the data to Google and the users of Google maps based sites.

Yesterday, Google published an updated Terms of Service for both Google Maps and Earth,  which I hope will go some way to solving this issue.

The relevant section of the new terms of service with reference to the publishing of user generated content I reproduce below..

11. Licenses from You to Google.

11.1 Content License

(a) You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Your Content. By submitting, posting or displaying Your Content 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. This license is for the purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Service.


So part (a) says.. your data is your data, Google can make no claim over its ownership. You provide Google with a license to reproduce your maps only for promotion purposes, e.g. like the screenshot below or in a powerpoint presentation.



(b) You give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to access, reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute business listings data contained in Maps API Implementations. For example, if you create a store locator application, Google may use the business listings information from the store locator to improve the Google Services such as Google Maps and local search.


Part (b) is really about improving local search, if you are opening a new chain of coffee shops (not perhaps the best time methinks) and you produce a store locator that uses Google Maps, then you are allowing Google to use your store locations in the Google Search index, so people will be able to find them from other sites in addition to you own.
For local authorities this might be relevant for the location of public offices, libraries, schools etc. Type “Teddington Schools” into Google and you get a list that looks like this..
Really useful I think..


(c) You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make Your Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.


Part (c) really just highlights how the geoweb works, it you create a google map with the location of your recylcing centres, that map may be syndicated to users of mobile phones on the Vodafone network for example, who have access to Google Maps as a standard option on their phones.


(d) You understand and agree that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Service to our users, may do the following:

(i) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and

(ii) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media.  


Part (d) is about making technical changes to the way maps are displayed to take into account bandwidth and device limitations.


11.2 Brand Features License. You grant to Google a nontransferable, nonexclusive license during the Term to use Your Brand Features to advertise that you are using the Service.


Google can use your logo to illustrate the fact you are a Google maps/earth user.


11.3 Authority to Grant Licenses. You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licenses.


This might be the difficult point, it is saying that by publishing the locations of your schools, coffee shops, crime statistics etc. you have the rights to share the information, because it is yours to share. I can see the OS view on derived data may make this currently difficult, but lets hope that that is something that can change.

Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.

28 replies on “Who reads the Terms of Service anyway..”

Not sure if you had a hand in getting the T&Cs changed but you deserve some thanks at least for this blog post. 🙂 It’s important that people know what they’re signing up for when they request a map API key.

The last part (11.3) should concern anyone who uses data from another party and plots it onto a Google map. The chances they have the rights to grant another party (Google) any rights whatsoever are probably nil. I’m not just referring to OS data but even using freely available data from, say, the BBC to plot roadworks or McDonalds to plot their restuarants. That is breaking the Google T&Cs and I think it’s a problem that Google need to address otherwise there could potentially be a ton of law suits, or at least very twitchy website owners.

Surely part of the problem is:

a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute Your Content

Why not have something similar to the licence and drop the perpetual license. That way the copyright holder can ask to take it down later?

Hi Richard,

I can see your point, but almost all users of the Maps API host their own data, so may remove it at any time. The license works only while the data / map is actually published.

At any point you can chose to stop..


What your saying Ed is that if an API user takes the data off, Goggle wil no longer have access to it, however if you are using the data to (for instance) update local searches, surely the data is being used regardless of whether it is currently on the users website?

As pointed out, I think this will leave anyone who has not physically created their own data from start to finish uncomfortable.


Your last point is quite a crucial one! Shouldn’t this be made clear, from what I can see it isn’t stated anywhere (although I must confess I do not know or fully understand the full TOS… who really does except lawyers!)

What would be really useful though would be if Google actually made people aware when it changes its terms, after all they have our email address because we gave it when we signed up. Is it a persons fault if they unknowingly infringe on the TOS because it changed and they were not aware? As a user am I going to have to make it part of my daily routine to read through the TOS.

Whatever we may think of their actual terms at least OS actively engage their users, especially when terms change!

The Microsoft VE license doesn’t have the word “perpetual”. It also makes it very clear that they do not claim ownership of the material you use with VE. Section 5:

They also offer SSL for free and 50,000 geocodings per day. As a developer I’m so torn between the two for many reasons. No wonder some sites offer the user a choice of which map to use for their mashup!

I still think both companies should offer further clarification on the T&Cs. It shouldn’t be up to our lawyers to decide what Google/MS lawyers meant when they wrote the T&Cs. A lot of people who build websites don’t even have lawyers.

I have to agree with Colin, that last point is critical.

7. Makes it very clear the licence of to the API user is only for the duration of using the API. But 11. says the license the other way is perpetual.

Its true that most data is locally hosted, so Google never even sees the data, making the terms unenforcable. If the terms are only intended to cover data actully hosted (or processed – eg via GGeoXML) by Google, then the Terms NEED to say that.

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