The U.S.A. Justice Department has breathed new life into an investigation of Google Maps to determine if bundling the service together with other Google software illegally stifles competition, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The probe of the Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) unit first came to light in late 2020 and had been quiet until recent months when investigators again began making inquiries, the sources said.
Google said it cooperates with regulators and welcomes their questions. The Justice Department declined to comment.
The probe has two components
One part focuses on apps, including navigation, that are provided through infotainment screens in vehicles. In its Google Automotive Services package for automakers, the search company bundles together Maps, the Google Play app store, Google Assistant, and other services. Car companies are prevented from, for example, mixing Google Maps with voice assistants developed by smaller rivals, one source said.
In response, Google said the integration provides the best user experience, and that in some instances a rival voice assistant can function with Google Maps.
The other component focuses on app and website developers. Specifically, the department is looking at Google's requirement that if a website or app uses one Google technology, say Google's location search, the website or app developer cannot use maps or other technologies developed by Google’s rivals, the two sources said.
A congressional antitrust panel concluded in a Big Tech staff report issued in 2020 that Google "enforces this provision aggressively" and effectively forces developers "to choose whether they will use all of Google's mapping services or none of them."
Google said its policies are aimed at preventing poor experiences, noting that mixing a Google Map with information on another map could lead to errors. The policies also stem from restrictions that partners place on how Google can use their data, it said.
The policies have some exceptions, and Google added that developers "are also free to use other mapping services in addition to Google Maps Platform – and many do."