Liberating your My Maps data

Richard in his post at the OpenGeoData blog, highlights the work of Google’s Data Liberation Front which aims to make sure that user data hosted on Google servers can always be exported out for use in other services or applications.

So what of Geodata, well contrary to popular opinion if you create a My Maps mash up you are just one click away from exporting your map data as a KML file;  just click on the link marked “View in Google Earth” and a KML file of your map is downloaded.

Richard asks if it is possible for Google to offer a “mass tracing” right similar to that offered to the Open Street Map Community by Yahoo. This I’m afraid Google cannot currently do as we don’t have the rights to offer this on a universal basis.

I hope this is a useful clarification, sorry I could not add a comment on the blog itself for some reason.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network

49 replies on “Liberating your My Maps data”

In response to Richard’s post. Rather than ‘deriving’ co-ordinates from a map, having returned from greenlaning, the other approach is to take a geotagged pictue of the relevant feature while you are actually there. The lat/long will then be embedded in the EXIF data of the image (Ed – you know how I’ve been pushing geotagged images for navigation). Given most (all!) green lanes are in open countryside the gps fix will be very good. The resulting images can then be uploaded to Panoramio, Flickr, NavPix etc. This gets over all the derived data issues as you have captured the co-ordinates at the location. The other big advantage of the approach is the actual condition of the track, feature etc is recorded which I know is a big issue.


Nice idea, although as I have pointed out there would be no issue in derived data from that application.

I guess using GPS would be just like the old days for many OpenStreetMappers 🙂


Your statements about it not being possible under the current license arrangements Google has with it’s aerial imagery suppliers are well founded of course.

However, Google is a fairly innovative company and has large purchasing power. If Microsoft can buy Vexcel or some unknown company (wink wink) can buy all the rights to ANDs EU data… surely you guys can figure something out to get people access to this stuff?

You’re in the business of ripping the biz models from under people, why not the antiquated aerial imagery industry? It’s not like anyone thinks it’s cool or efficient. I vote Google make some (more) moves to drag them kicking and screaming in to the century of the fruitbat.

And, it’s not like Google have to release every bit of imagery right now in to the Public Domain. Why not start small, just do a area like San Francisco, or how about aerial imagery from 5 years ago in London? Google could say to it’s suppliers, we’d buy 2010 imagery but we want to offer 2005 imagery under better rights, and make that a sweetener on the deal for an extra 5% or something.

Basically “we don’t have the rights” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation?

Your helpful business development advisor,


Reading through this thread I feel I need to make a stand for the aerial suppliers (I’m not one of them).

If Google were to buy & grant the rights to aerials as some people suggest, I fear the excitment would be short-lived, even if you reserve up-to-date imagery as a high-end niche market.

The aerial industry is already suffering from tight margins and can’t be doing much better than just about breaking even. For them to offer their imagery to Google et al was already a great leap. It was no doubt lucrative for the suppliers in the short term but they must have been lying awake at night worried about substitution risk. Still, the whole industry and the public have benefited, which is great.

One more such leap however, giving away virtually all rights, would commoditise aerials even more and possibly result in suppliers falling off the cliff altogether. Unless we are happy to stick with 2009 imagery forever, Google and Microsoft would then have to step in themselves and take over aerial capture, monopolising the market. I’m not sure that would benefit anyone in the long-term – history shows that market choice and competition is always better than the reverse.

The alternative is of course to just “do it” as some people suggest and see what happens, and new opportunities will always work out. This is often true and seems to be the businsess development model favoured by the 2.0 world.

But sometimes I wonder whether the costly realities of buying/hiring aeroplanes, fuelling and maintaining them, and having qualified survey pilots flying them, are sometimes overlooked in the debate.

Your friendly paleo reseller, Thierry

Ed – when you say “I really don’t see this as an issue of legal clarification”, I know you personally don’t! You’ve said that before.

Nonetheless the customer is king and this customer (with, if you’ll excuse the immodesty, more exposure to spatial law than most) doesn’t see any clarity here. I hope that Google will be able to give a more definitive answer on a site which doesn’t have a “not the opinions of Google” disclaimer on it. I’m sure the Data Liberation Front will be working through their Moderator suggestions in due course and I look forward to hearing from them when they do.

Individual comments:

Tim – sure, I can do that because I have a camera and a GPS, but until everyone has iPhones it’s not a valid model for a consumer website. Ed – hey, many of us still only do the GPS thing; tracing from aerials for “fun” has never actually appealed to me when I could go out on my bike! And Steve is spot on here and, well, gets it. Please cut that previous sentence out and frame it – as he’ll probably tell you I don’t say that very often. 😉


Thanks for the Business Development ideas, if we are able to grant the rights you need, don’t worry you will be the first to hear. You could also try this two additional ideas..

– Ask Yahoo to buy more up to date imagery, as they appear to have the rights to grant you what you need.
– Cloudmade could buy the imagery with the appropriate rights for use by the OSM Community

As TG points out capturing imagery for millions of square kilometres is not an easy job and it does not come cheap, it will according to the analysts be worth a billion dollars next year, even for Google that is a lot of money 🙂


OK to be really clear – I think the terms of service are quite definitive..

“Also, you may not use Google Maps in a manner which gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of numerical latitude and longitude coordinates.”

As for the data liberation point, I don’t really think what you are asking to do fits with the general understanding of exporting users data.

Ok, my last comment on this post as I think we’re increasingly repeating ourselves. Let’s forget OSM exists for the duration of this comment as it’s just clouding the issue.

There are two places where that sentence isn’t clear:

a) It does not define “mass” or “bulk” (my point above)
b) The Google Maps Terms applies it to ‘Map Information’ and the Maps API Terms to ‘Content’. UK and US case law is clear that derivations from aerial photography are not ‘Content’ or part of the ‘Map’

Google (on an official site) could do the minimum required to answer the request by:

1) Answering a) by publishing the quantitative/qualitative criteria in use
2) Answering b) by confirming whether or not the terms apply to derivations from aerial photography
3) Listing any further restrictions that apply to data created in this way

Anything over and above this would no doubt be warmly welcomed. As your issues with the OS demonstrate, and the comments over on James Fee’s blog by trad GIS guys confirm, derived geodata is a live issue for many people.

I’m sure the Data Liberation Front expect some resistance from product teams. There wouldn’t be much point to it if they didn’t. It’s to be applauded that Google have created an organisation to challenge this resistance, and I look forward to hearing from them.


No we can’t remove OSM from this discussion,; it is you motivation to trace imagery for large scale production of vector data that you want to make available to third parties. As I said for most other applications this is not an issue.

What would you think bulk means ?, it is not uncommon not to put a precise value against the term, the doctrine of fair use is based around the insubstantial reproduction of copyrighted works, but what does insubstantial mean ?

This point is in relation to the service not any particular type of data.

I think “Fair use” is one of the worst terms to ever get written in to contracts. I wonder if it was infiltrated into society by contract lawayers to generate business for themselves as its ambiguity and openness to interpretation is huge ;).

Mobile phone and broadband contracts are often sold as “unlimited” with a fair usage policy (so not in fact unlimited!). The fair usage policy seems to be a threshold (e.g. downloading more than 10Gb a month) after which the customer is warned, advised to changed to a different tariff, or perhaps cut-off. It’s handy if the threshold/limit is published so you can see what the “unlimited” deal actually is.

Google must have a threshold set in the system somewhere that triggers at least an investigation into a user’s activities, even if it doesn’t do anything else automatically. What is this “alert” threshold? How many times can you download more than the threshold? Does a user get let off with a warning the first time? Etc etc…

I like the idea of fair use policies but in practice I think they cause more trouble than they’re worth. Everybody’s definition of “fair” is different for one thing. Is it OK if I decide that bulk means 2 billion plus records, and that what I’m doing is fair? If Google decides what’s fair, what rules does Google use? Or is it just made up on a case by case basis?

Part of the problem does lie with the particular data in question. A dataset of capital cities will be much smaller than a dataset of street lights. Would downloading the entire capital city dataset (or 90%?, 80%?) count as a bulk download? Say there were 1000 capital cities and you downloaded 1000 street light records from a dataset containing a million records, does this count as a bulk download?

If Google is not prepared to put actual figures on things, perhps would help if they published some case study examples on what is and is not fair use.

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