“Apple” Maps (or, “OpenStreetMap Reinvented”…)

Update: Please also read the further information about this post

Traditionally, map applications on Apple platforms have made use of Google Maps. But iPhoto for iOS, launched today, ditches the familiar Google Maps interface in favour of a new map style.

The new map style has no attribution and the tiles are served from Apple’s servers using a URL pattern such as http://gsp2.apple.com/tile?api=1&style=slideshow&layers=default&lang=en_GB&z=8&x=126&y=84&v=9 . Here’s the tile image you’ll get from that URL:


The image tiles themselves use quite an interesting, quasi-retro style. Nobody would be surprised if they were told that Apple had been acquiring their own sets of map data in order to launch their own map product, dispensing of their need to rely on Google Maps in their operating systems. But have they?

I took a closer look at an area I know well. Notice how “Apple Maps” on iPhoto shows the road pattern in the area of Norwich circled in red in the following extract:


Now I know that folk here in Norfolk are a little odd, but surely our town planners wouldn’t have come up with a road network that mad? And, of course, they haven’t. These “roads” are tracks through woodland in an area called Mousehold Heath, where I often walk my dog. So how did Apple’s map data providers mistakenly think these were roads?

Oh, of course – Apple haven’t been gathering their own map data at all – what they’ve done is render Open Street Map data with their own stylesheet, miscategorised the status of some ways, conveniently forgotten to include any copyright attribution, and passed it off as their own! (Or, so it appears…)

Here’s the OSM map of the same area:


And here’s the two maps overlaid on top of each other – don’t they line up well?


I’m sure the OSM community would be delighted to know that Apple have chosen to use their map over Google’s – it’s a great validation of the accuracy and completeness of the Open Street Map data. Heck – the OSM data is there to be used. But not giving any credit to the hundreds of thousands of people who voluntarily put in time and effort to create that map? That’s a big mistake for Apple.

Update: Having spent some more time reviewing the Apple tileset, I ought to just mention that the example above is far from a one-off isolated case. It seems that whoever rendered these tiles lacks any real understanding of how OSM data is structured. For example, the following image highlights three beautifully rendered, detailed areas of road network…


…which, unfortunately, are nothing more than the lanes in private car parks (belonging to Norwich Union and City College, respectively). Yes, OSM data is that detailed.


And those features that are rendered appropriately appear to be based on OSM data that’s two years out-of-date.

And, then of course, there’s the interesting choice of rendering style. I actually quite like it, but that’s because I’ve always quite liked pirate treasure maps, and the look and feel of the zoomed-out map image definitely makes think that there should be an “X marks the spot” there somewhere…


Update 2: As two of the sane-minded commentators have rightfully pointed out (thankyou Patrick Taylor and JP), Apple is a big company, and it’s perfectly possible that this situation has occurred through oversight or communication breakdown rather through deliberate malice. Either way, I look forward to Apple co-operating with the OSM foundation to address the problem and, when they do, I will retract my statement that they have stolen the data without due credit.

One thing I regret is that I have no way of gathering further information about my commenters. Particularly:-

  • If they have ever personally contributed to OSM.
  • How many Apple products they own.

I’d love to see if there’s any correlation between their point-of-view on the issue and either of those factors…

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60 Responses to “Apple” Maps (or, “OpenStreetMap Reinvented”…)

  1. Trevor Daniel says:

    Nice research Alastair – “caught red handed” springs to mind.

  2. Clearly OSM steals from apple. Next campaign will be to sue OSM for every penny they don’t got.

  3. Gerry Tsui says:

    I don’t see copyright Apple neither. So does it means that we(the community) can “reverse engineer” all the styling too ?

    It is likely that they are crediting OSM somewhere in the terms of use/disclosure that nobody reads.

  4. underdark says:

    New plan: Sue Apple and hire full-time QA workers for OSM.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. 1984 Apple “reinvents” the mouse.
    2001 Apple “reinvents” the mp3 player.
    2006 Apple “reinvents” the intel laptop.
    2007 Apple “reinvents” the mobile phone.
    2010 Apple “reinvents” the tablet.
    2012 Apple “reinvents” OpenStreetMap 😉

  6. Juanda says:

    Boys come on, Apple has bought 3 companies specialized in Geolocalization and Maps only during the last year… there’s no stealing from anyone…

  7. olsonjj says:

    How is this stealing? From the OSM home page ” OpenStreetMap is an initiative to create and provide free geographic data, such as street maps, to anyone.”. From the license page “Is it really free? Yes”.

    If you want to throw a fit that at least Apple should attribute the work to OSM, I’m behind you, bu this is far from stealing.

    • alastaira says:

      Well, according to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/steal, to “steal” is “to present or use (someone else’s words or ideas) as one’s own.”. I’d say that’s pretty much exactly what Apple are doing.
      What’s more, attributing usage of OSM data isn’t just a moral thing – it’s a requirement of the CC BY-SA licence: http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright
      “You are free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt our maps and data, *as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors*.”

      You show me where Apple admit that they’re using OSM data (and not, as they claim according to http://daringfireball.net/linked/2012/03/07/iphoto-maps, Google data), and I’ll stop calling them thieves.

      • John says:

        Drama Queen. They should update their information, but stop making them out to be the devil over something that’s obviously an update oversite. It’s not a conspiracy. ಠ_ರೃ

      • alastaira says:

        Just one question – are you an OSM contributor? I’m curious to know how people’s opinions on this subject differ depending on whether they personally feel aggrieved by not receiving credit, or whether they’re commenting as mere bystanders.

  8. If Apple has used OSM data to render maps, it’s not clear that they’re actually required to license anything from anyone.

    “You are free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt our maps and data, as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors. If you alter or build upon our maps or data, you may distribute the result only under the same licence. The full legal code explains your rights and responsibilities.”

    If Apple is creating map tiles based on OSM data then, as is the case with images rendered using a font, they probably don’t need to do anything. This could be viewed as a flaw in the copyright statement. Obviously it would be nice if Apple (a) credited OSM, (b) did a better job of generating the maps, and (c) used more up-to-date data, but it’s not clear that they’re distributing OSM data (in raw or modified form) or maps.

    From the FAQ:

    “If I have data derived from OSM data, do I have to distribute it?
    The licence does not force you to distribute or make any data available. But if you do choose to distribute it, or anything derived from it, it must be under the same licence terms as the OSM data.”

    Again, Apple may have munged the data, but it’s not clear that creating its own maps from the data qualifies as distributing “anything derived it” except in the broadest and least reasonable sense (e.g. imagine I am writing a novel and I look up stuff in OSM to verify some detail, so I now need to credit OSM because the data in my novel derives in some sense from OSM data. Or to take a more concrete example — font vendors have no attribution rights for images created with their fonts).

    I think Apple should credit OSM from a moral standpoint, but I don’t think it’s at all clear that it needs to do anything. (If it started providing directions which require using data clearly derived from OSM data and transmitting it to end users then that would be another story.)

    2012 Soulsolutions “reinvents” trolling?

    • alastaira says:

      It’s not a matter of whether it would “be nice” for Apple credit OSM, it’s a matter of them understanding and abiding by the OSM’s CC BY-SA licence. From the very first quote you list:
      “You are free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt our maps and data, *as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors*.”

      For the full terms of use, see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

    • Pete says:

      Your argument hinges on the meaning of “and” in “…our maps and data” in the OSM license. Using “or” would have been more appropriate though I think a lawyer could successfully argue that the implied usage was clear to the layman.

      • Igor Brejc says:

        There was no “OSM license” as such, at least not in 2010. The current license that applies to OSM data is http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode. So if you want to debate legal intricacies, you should apply it to the license text and not OSM’s legal FAQ page.

        Example extract:
        “…If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work or any Derivative Works or Collective Works, You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and give the Original Author credit reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing by conveying the name (or pseudonym if applicable) of the Original Author if supplied; the title of the Work if supplied; to the extent reasonably practicable, the Uniform Resource Identifier, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work; and in the case of a Derivative Work, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Derivative Work (e.g., “French translation of the Work by Original Author,” or “Screenplay based on original Work by Original Author”). Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Derivative Work or Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit…”

  9. Pingback: Apple switches from Google to OpenStreetMaps in new iPhoto…but forgets to give credit | VentureBeat

  10. Gregors says:

    Does OSM make any use of trap streets? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trap_street

    • alastaira says:

      The crowd-sourced nature of OSM mean that trap streets will exist if a contributor has added them! But, I’m not sure they need to be explicitly added – the level of micro-mapping of footpaths, carparks etc. present in the Apple maps can pretty much only have come from OSM 🙂

    • Igor Brejc says:

      You can view most of OSM data as trap streets, since a lot of it has come from manual users’ data entering based on GPS. This implies there could be a lot of inaccuracies/mistakes in the data and this then effectively becomes a trap street.

      Example: I can easily see that Apple is using OSM data just based on the hiking paths I’ve been entering for the past 3-4 years. Although their data snapshot is 2 years old, there are a lot of “my” paths that can clearly be seen on “Apple’s” (quote intended) maps.

  11. It looks like that a lot of people still are not aware of CC licenses. Most of my friends that have heard about CC think that “CC = yeah it is free, I can do whatever I want with it”. Moreover, many people fail to know that there are _different_ CC licenses.

    • alastaira says:

      Completely agree with your comment about the public-at-large, but a multi-billion pound software company like Apple should understand licences.

      • On the other hand, Apple is a big company (with lots of divisions) that likes to keep products secret, so the division that created iPhoto for iOS maps might have failed to add the attribution bug in the rush to get the product ready for the new iPad launch. At this point, I’d be quicker to say that it was a stupid goof up.

        If Apple doesn’t update the app soon and properly attribute OSM, then yes, they are thieving bastards.

        Attribution aside, I hope that they do continue to use Openstreetmap data (with proper attribution) throughout their products and begin to contribute back to the project.

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  14. Stuart says:

    If they are to be credited, they’ll be credited in the same place as Google: in the Legal Notices.
    Presumably everyone has read it.

    There is a long list of geodata providers in there… I didn’t see OSM but perhaps one of those listed took the data from OSM…

    Until there is an alternative to Google Street view, I doubt Google is really going to leave IOS…

    • alastaira says:

      Unless I’m mistaken, Google is normally acknowledged by the addition of the Google logo in the bottom left hand corner of a map based on their tileset as well. But a mention of OSM anywhere would be better than nowhere…

  15. flxa says:

    Make them walk the plank!

  16. JP says:

    It seems a bit premature to jump up and down calling Apple a thief. That doesn’t mean that their map implementation doesn’t utilize unattributed OSM data, but 2 years is an awfully large window of time to say that Apple knowingly or willfully did so and just rolled it out thinking no one would notice.

    As Stuart mentioned, there are a lot of geodata providers that Apple gets data from and their acquisitions in the mapping space certainly already had large sets of data to begin with. Any one of them “could” have snagged OSM data to jumpstart their dataset 2 years ago and that’s why it’s so out of date. What I don’t understand is why it’s automatically assumed to be something that Apple is fully aware of and deliberately or maliciously doing. There isn’t much to gain by drumming up a bunch of moral outrage with lots of finger pointing and name calling, unless of course it’s designed to generate traffic (I’m not getting that impression from the post).

    I applaud the finding and I’m definitely all for calling it out to be investigated and expect proper attribution should it be found that OSM data was indeed used, but given that Apple clearly has a lot of data providers in play for this type of thing, I think it’s absurd to be antagonistic about it. Hopefully it’s found that OSM data was indeed used (which the evidence does seem to support), that it’s stale and needs to be updated, and Apple figures out that it could benefit by doing a better job of auditing it’s sources to give credit where credit is due and avoid messy PR problems.

    FWIW, I think OSM’s response to this finding is perfect and I do hope everything gets sorted out as some sort of error. There are plenty of genuine nefarious acts by corporations around the world we should be focusing our rage on that we shouldn’t have the need to blow things like this out of proportion until solid evidence is available (and no overlays of tiles aren’t something I consider “solid” though they are certainly convincing enough to demand further investigation).

    ps. sorry for the book length comment, didn’t expect to want to say this much on the subject.

    • alastaira says:

      I agree with you – the OSM foundation’s response is excellent. And Apple, just like any organisation, are welcome (and, more than that, should be encouraged) to use OSM data.
      And you (and Patrick Taylor above) are almost certainly right to say that this is not an intentionally nefarious act, but a cock-up caused by miscommunication between different divisions of a large company.

      But I don’t represent OSM in any way (thank God!), and the views written here are entirely my own. If it seems that I’ve jumped to accusations to quickly, or made 2+2=5 then it just goes to show how angry this issue made me… I don’t think it invalidates my main points that a.) Apple are using OSM data b.) They have not credited it as required under the CC BY-SA licence.

      • JP says:

        Not at all. And I fully support your desire to get to the bottom of this as I don’t like the idea any better than you seem to.

        However, speaking for myself, I would like to have more evidence, or at least hear both sides of the story, before I jump on the “thief” bandwagon. I would like to believe more people would like the same, but I fear I have become the minority.

      • zato says:

        “I don’t think it invalidates my main points that a.) Apple are using OSM data b.) They have not credited it as required under the CC BY-SA licence.”

        Which is why you went with “Apple Maps (AKA Apple are thieving bastards)”, a headline that’s pure gold in the world of click-whoring. If they sue you for slander, you can say where’s the credit?

      • alastaira says:

        i.) Minor nitpick, but you can’t sue for slander over a written statement – it would be libel.
        ii.) To succeed in a case for libel Apple would have to prove loss suffered as a result of the statement. While it’s true that the number of page views I’ve received on this post far exceed those that I normally get on this blog, I really don’t think Apple are worried about it harming sales of the iPad…
        iii.) And, more to the point, *the statement would have to be false*.

        So, are you of the opinion that it’s ok for Apple to use OSM data without credit and without being called up on it?

        And are you seriously accusing me of “link-whoring”? Please, take a look at my other posts. Does this look like a site that I’d be desperate to drive high traffic to? Does it have any advertising, for example? No. Do I gain anything whatsoever from replying to the comments left from Apple fanboys? No. This is my own personal blog where I comment on matters that relate to my sphere of technical expertise, which includes web-mapping services like OSM, Google Maps, Bing Maps etc. In this post, I’ve explained very clearly my point of view and the reason for my anger at Apple. If you followed a link here based on the “sensationalist” title of this post then it rather strikes me that you are at fault, not me.

    • Igor Brejc says:

      Would Apple give such benefit of the doubt if it were in OSM’s position?

      • JP says:

        It’s not a question of what anyone would do. I’m stating that the evidence, while convincing, doesn’t conclusively show that Apple is stealing the data that they’re being accused of or is doing so with full knowledge that it’s stolen. As such it’s premature to presume and accuse anyone, Apple or otherwise, of thievery until something more concrete is found. I simply feel that this is being puffed up without enough supporting evidence to justify it and some level of reasonable investigation is necessary before it becomes the next Antennagate or whatever.

        Do I think Apple would give them the benefit of the doubt? Honestly I have no idea. I’m not a behavior expert, and I’m not Apple so imagining a scenario that I could predict exactly how they would react would be both irrelevant and inaccurate. I know how I would act in such a situation, but I also know not everyone/everything would react the same way so I’m not going to set it up as an expectation.

        There’s been way too much judgement of premature guilt before any evidence to the contrary is even looked at being done in the public domain lately and I’m personally finding it difficult to take seriously anymore.

      • George-Cristian Birzan says:

        Uhm. Ignorance is not an excuse as far as the law is concerned. If you’re infringing someone’s IP, even unknowingly, you’re liable. End of story.

        Even if we’re considering just moral guilt and assume they ‘bought’ the map info from a third party, without knowing it’s actually OSM data, apple is a huge company, and I’m pretty sure someone did notice it.

        On the other hand, it’s not stealing. It’s just copyright infringement and double standards, as Apple is known for defending its IP quite aggressively.

  17. third-eye says:

    Apple is using map data from April 2010 for a reason. OSM changed their license a month later. Why didn’t you or even OSM think of that? This is a temporary hack to show some nice map tiles in iPhoto online galleries until they have their own mapping service in place.

  18. Igor Brejc says:

    @thrid-eye: True, this is a debate for lawyers. But there’s a difference between saying “these are our own maps” and “we used your data because your license is worthless”. Given we’re talking about Apple (and not some dodgy third-rate company) it’s BS no matter how fanboys try to justify it. On the other hand, coming from Apple (or Google or Microsoft for that matter), it’s not that surprising.

  19. Anthony McArthur says:

    A lot of Apple fanbosy to the rescue! LOL this kind of people make me laugh silly rabbits

  20. Pingback: Apple entra nel mondo del mapping? « Cesare Gerbino GIS Blog

  21. Timur says:

    If Apple really used OSM data without giving credit then it doesn’t really matter if it was on purpose or not, both are rather embarrassing for a company that has a *lot* of experience in licensing and pursues a *very* aggressive stance on licensing themselves (including regular legal actions).

    I am sure this will be sorted out one or the other way. Maybe it turns out the OSM data was not used, but if it was used then it didn’t contribute to a positive view of how Apple handles licensing and creative work in general.

    And yes, I am using several Apple devices and non Apple ones myself. I care for the right tool at hand, not the name on the shell (usually prefer not to have brand names visible on my stuff).

  22. Max says:

    I’m about along the lines of the OSM Foundation’s blog entry on this. Glad they use it – much appreciate the publicity it has already brought – ultimately yes I would prefer they sort out the credit thing. Also, as others have pointed out – without needing to resort to explicit trap streets, I can easily identify some obscure spots that are by their nature mapped somewhat subjectively (and are seen on the apple map too). As for the rest, a) yes, substantially, b) none, on principle.

  23. robotnic says:

    If you want to see live how the map is growing have a look at:

  24. rbrundritt says:

    Might be worth noting that even though Apple has bought several GIS companies in recent years this does not mean they purchased any data. Collecting of GIS data is extremely expensive unless you us a community driven data set like Open Street Maps. Bing and Google spend billions of dollars a year just in data for their maps.

    Personally I think it’s a slap in the face to all the other map providers out there that Apple thinks it can use someone elses data without giving them credit. For the hundred thousand plus people who contribute to the Open Street Map project and to all the companies who spend billions of dollars to create enterprise mapping platforms.

    One thing I don’t think anyone pointed out is that Bing Maps makes it aerial imagery available to the Open Street Maps project for tracing of roads. Bing Maps does not make use of Open Street Map data itself. So indirectly Bing Maps has helped Apple and Apple has not given credit to Open Street Maps thus indirectly not given credit to Bing Maps and all the contributors of the OSM project. What do you think this might lead to?

    I’ll have to agree with Alastair that many of the comments in this thread are more so from people who know nothing about GIS and what goes into it. We are not talking about using a small set of data that was freely given away with no restrictions. We are talking about a massive amount of data that has taken years to compile.

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