TLDR: Google suddenly claims a “terms of service” violation on a route plotting site that has been built on the Maps API for a decade.
I built routebuilder.org in 2006, as tool for users to create and share custom mapping routes with friends. The site has gained a small amount of popularity over the years, with over 70,000 bicyclists, kayakers, runners, and marathon organizers saving routes on the site. It offers a bare-bones interface to solve a simple problem. Routebuilder is built on top of Google Map API, which hosts the map widget and provides the services to plot waypoints on top of it.
On Jan 6, 2016, the Google Maps Team sent an email effectively demanding that RouteBuilder shuts down:
We’re happy to see developers interested in our products, however, your application http://routebuilder.org/, violates the Google Maps APIs terms of service.
In particular,your application violates clause 10.4(c), which does not allow developers to create a wrapper — an application that re-implements or duplicates the Google Maps website or mobile app, or any of the Google Maps APIs. Please remove your application or modify it to no longer use the Google Maps APIs.
We’re bringing this to your attention so we can work together to make sure your implementation complies with our terms of service. If you’re not able to bring your implementation into compliance with the terms, we will take action to restrict your access to the service.
Please let us know within the next 14 days that you have updated your implementation to comply with our terms of service. You can respond to this e-mail.
Routebuilder’s niche is that you can create custom routes with a minimal amount of clicks. It does not offer any bells or whistles. To the best of my knowledge, Google does not offer any service like it. The closest I can find is Google My Maps, which was launched in June, 2008 (2 years after Routebuilder, for the record). I played around with this service a bit — its very featureful, but because of this it is also very laborious to create simple routes.
Clearly the Google Maps API is their product and they can choose who does and does not use it. However, it seems heavy-handed to suddenly go after independent developers who have been using their API from the beginning.
I have tried emailing the Google Maps team to plead my case, but my correspondence went unanswered. One option for me would be to rewrite routebuilder to run on another mapping platform, but with an infant at home and a full-time job, I frankly don’t have the time or energy.
Update: Google responded.