UK Court Tells Online Mapping Company It's Not Illegal For Google To Also Offer Online Maps

from the it's-called-competition dept

It’s still somewhat strange to me to see how badly some companies react to basic competition. Yes, sometimes that means companies lose, but it doesn’t automatically make any and all competition unfair. An online map company, StreetMap.Eu sued Google a few years ago, claiming that Google’s entrance into the online mapping world, and specifically including maps in search results, was unfair competition. However, the UK High Court has now, rightfully, rejected such a claim. The basis of the ruling seemed rather straightforward:

But the judge ruled that the introduction by Google of the new-style Maps OneBox in 2007 was “not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps”.

The judge added that, in any event, Google’s conduct was ” objectively justified”.

StreetMap’s director Kate Sutton, however, is insisting that the company will appeal and says the whole thing is “unfair.”

“The decision is unfair for small businesses,” Sutton said, and added that StreetMap would attempt to appeal against the judgment, which found that Google’s search dominance had not directly harmed competition in the UK’s online mapping market.

I’m kind of curious what Sutton thinks is the appropriate remedy here: that no larger company should ever be allowed to offer services useful to consumers, which might somehow be “unfair” to smaller competitors? I’m a huge supporter of more competition in innovative services, but that should be driven by what’s best for consumers, not what’s best for small companies. Besides, plenty of small companies figure out how to innovate and take on large companies. The fact that her company has chosen not to do so is not Google’s fault. Hell, Google itself, when it showed up entered a very crowded market and was laughed at for being such a small player in a market dominated by established companies. And what happened there?

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Companies: google, streetmaps

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Comments on “UK Court Tells Online Mapping Company It's Not Illegal For Google To Also Offer Online Maps”

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20 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Google itself, when it showed up entered a very crowded market and was laughed at for being such a small player in a market dominated by established companies.

Who laughed? I remember the very early days of Google, and right from the start everyone I knew who was using it was basically saying “wow, this Google thing is soooo much better than [insert other search engine here]!” and “you’ve got to try Google; they’ve actually figured out how to get relevant search results right!” That was the general mood: all those other search engines are obsolete now, because someone just showed up who actually accomplishes what they’ve been trying and failing to do for all these years. There might have been people laughing, but I don’t recall a single one.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Who laughed?

Almost everyone, honestly. Yes, people admitted that Google’s search was better, but by then “search” was a dead market. Everything was “portals” and Yahoo, Lycos, Altavista, Excite and more all “dominated” that space. The press laughed off the idea of a “new search engine” at the time as a viable business — especially Google which had no ads at the time.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah that’s how I remember it. All those sites were offering cluttered attempts at different services simultaneously then along came Google with nothing but a search bar… and a search that really worked. Whatever you think of them now, the idea that they revolutionised everything is undeniable. Yes, people scoffed at the time that Google had nothing else, but when people abandoned the other sites in droves for a simple search that worked, sites like Yahoo quickly looked old hat.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I was at Infoseek 1999-2001. The company was based on strong search technology R&D, but de-prioritized that in a bid to become a better Portal.

Excite did the same, as well as the others mentioned by Mike. It was the Portal Wars, and Yahoo was winning.

Many of the portals thought so little of search that they actually were ecstatic to be able to outsource the trivial job of search algorithms to smaller, niche players. Many of them partnered with a small company named Google to provide search results within their branded portal. Even Infoseek, with a forte in search, outsourced some search to Google.

So, Mason, to your point, yes, everyone knew Google was doing search better…but very few that that search was important.

At the time was Google seen as a threat? Ha ha! No.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

There used to be several chain grocery stores where I live. When Walmart arrived one by one they shut down. Dillions is the only one left. I don’t like Walmart’s tactics but when I can go to one location and buy groceries, a vacuum cleaner and an oil filter for my car and get the lowest prices, that is where I will shop. It is just how the market place works. Walmart is big enough to pressure manufacturers on the prices they charge. If American companies don’t meet their demands they open factories in China.

In the ocean big fish swallow the smaller fish. Same thing on the internet. When I need to drive somewhere unfamiliar I can bring up Google maps and it will show me the different routes I can can take. I can bring up street view and find landmarks on the way to look for. It is unlikely, but if some other service finds a way to do this better than Google I will switch.

Google started out small when entered the market years ago when many similar services had already been long been established. Instead of bitching about the competition they came up with ways to do things better. In the beginning I used that piece of crap Explorer. If any browser had an unfair advantage they were it. Firefox arrived and continually improved their product. All Explorer could do was poorly imitate them and steal their features in the way Microsoft has done with everything from the days of DOS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just for the record.

StreetMap’s maps are far superior to Google maps. They are based on the OS (Ordnance Survey. On Google maps my street doesn’t even have a name – (to be fair it is a tiny street)but on Streetmaps it does. Not saying it gives them a right to sue because they got buthurt, but their product is better.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Just for the record.

I have yet to find anywhere that Google maps does not cover not only the street names but also street view. I couldn’t remember exactly how to get to a friend’s house who lives about 12 miles outside the city limit. Except for the highway there probably isn’t a paved road within 5 miles of his house. With street view I was able to click my way down the dirt roads and when I got to his house I could turn 90 degrees looking up his driveway and read his address by the door. It seems the Google car covers even very rural roads for a huge distance from me. You may be right that StreetMap is better but I have had no reason yet to try it. If they can offer a better service they can compete without having to sue.

Anonymous Coward says:

StreetMap failed to grow beyond just good quality maps

I used to use StreetMap, the maps (OS based in the UK) were very good, but they did not do much else.
They also lost a bit of useful functionality over time, at one point they had good information on parking in a selected area, over time this was dropped & it was more about pushing hotels etc (presume they got a cut of booking revenue, whereas curating up to date parking data costs time & money), plus their UI did not adapt much – e.g. clicking to change zoom levels stayed the norm, no mouse wheel zooms etc. so seemed clunkier & clunkier as other mapping websites got “smoother”. They failed to get in on the satellite view idea as seen on Google & Microsoft maps, and which people began to expect as an “added value” mapping feature (Street View was a total coffin nail)
With Google there was additional advantage of APIs (ironically I used to use Yahoo map APIs (until it became clear they would be dropping maps by lack of improvements added) as they were less hassle to use than the Google ones in the early days (no keys needed so you could just code without registration / signup))
The upshot of APIs is that often when a dev was adding mapping to a website they did it with an eye to the future, so even if APIs were not needed (after all a simple link allows map of a particular area with all teh map providers) they would likely pick Google in case more sophisticated API usage later needed.
Even though StreetMap maps were noticeably better for the UK, Google maps were “good enough” & the extra features swung the choice, so many people coding up websites would do their map links to a more flexible provider such as Google (or Microsoft, their maps API is good) instead of more basic providers such as Streetmap.

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