Apple and Google Maps accommodate Russia’s annexation of Crimea

Global politics are difficult to navigate ordinarily, but in times of conflict companies that aim to provide an unbiased service, such as a map or search function, may have to come down on one side or another. Apple just came down at least partly on the side of Russia in its controversial annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and Google has accommodated Russian interests as well.

The large peninsula on the north side of the Black Sea was brought under Russian control in 2014 during political unrest there concerning Crimea’s status within Ukraine. World leaders decried the move, saying that Russia had deliberately helped instigate the crisis there in order to take advantage of it, and violated Ukraine’s sovereignty with its military presence.

While the controversy surrounding these events are ongoing (indeed, the events themselves are too, in a way), companies like Apple and Google don’t have the luxury of waiting for history’s judgment to do things like update their maps.

Both, for instance, have in the past labeled locations in Crimea as being part of Ukraine. But Russia has made official complaints to the companies and warned them that it is considered a criminal act to refer to Crimea as other than a Russian territory. Now both companies have made concessions to Russian demands.

Apple in its Maps and Weather app now shows locations in Crimea as being part of Russia, when being viewed from that country. Russian authorities today said that “Apple fulfilled its obligations and brought the applications on its devices in compliance with the requirements of the Russian legislation.”

If you’re viewing from the U.S., both Apple and Google appear to take something of a neutral stance, if any stance can be said to be neutral. The Crimean peninsula appears as neither Russian nor Ukrainian on both Apple and Google Maps, with some rather strange gymnastics to accomplish it.

For example, in Google Maps there is a prominent border on the north side dividing Crimea from Kherson Oblast (a Ukrainian province), much heavier than lines between other provinces. Clicking Kherson Oblast on the border brings up a description and outline, while clicking Crimea seems to do nothing at all. On cities and random locations located in Crimea, there is no country at all in the space where it is normally displayed:

On both Apple and Google Maps, there is no border at all between Crimea and Russia where it would normally appear, across Taman Bay. Yet on one side of the bay locations are prominently labeled as Russian, while on the other they are devoid of a country affiliation.

I’ve asked Google and Apple for comment on when and how they decided to implement their current maps and will update this post if I hear back. It’s very likely that both will justify these decisions with the fact that they must adhere to local laws. But what happens when two sets of local laws diverge in the same location?

Update: A Google spokesperson says: “We make every effort to objectively depict the disputed regions, and where we have local versions of Google Maps, we follow local legislation when displaying names and borders.”

My point here is not to take sides for or against any of these representations, but to show that companies like Apple and Google are in a tight spot when it comes to these situations, and their information is far from complete or authoritative. In this case we see that they have different results for different places, concessions for some governments in spite of international concern, and the reduction of some services to a non-functional state (comparatively) in order to avoid controversy.

Just something to keep in mind whenever you look up information on services provided by global companies — they’re not objective sources, though of course arguably nothing is.

Google Maps Incognito mode starts rolling out for Android users

We’ve known for a while now that Google was bringing the “Incognito mode” concept to Maps, allowing you to run searches and find routes without them automatically being tied to your account history.

If you’ve been digging around trying to find the option without any luck, you weren’t just missing it. Though first mentioned back in May at Google I/O, the company says the rollout is just now officially underway.

Word of the rollout comes via a Google Maps support page, as first spotted by AndroidPolice.

It’s a staged rollout, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see the new feature immediately, even if you’re on the latest version of maps. It’s rolling out in batches, beginning with Android users. Google says it should be available to all Android users in “the next few days.”

Once it’s enabled on your account, you can toggle incognito mode on/off by tapping your profile picture, then flipping the switch. Here’s what that looks like:

So why incognito mode? As we wrote back in May: Whether it’s the holiday season and you’re trying to keep your gift-hunting locations under wraps, or you’re visiting a doctor and would just prefer it not pop up the next time a friend grabs your phone for some quick directions, there are all sorts of reasons you might want to leave fewer breadcrumbs. Remember, though, that while it’s less visibly tied to you, it’s still all stored in ways behind the scenes on Google’s end; the company told Wired earlier this month that while Incognito sessions aren’t tied to an account, they are logged with a unique session identifier that gets reset between sessions.

Google Maps adds more Waze-like features, including driving-incident reports

Google Maps is starting to look a lot more like Waze. Google today announced a series of new features that will allow drivers using the Maps app on iOS to report accidents, speed traps and traffic jams. And on both iOS and Android, users will be able to report other driving hazards and incidents, like road construction, lane closures, disabled vehicles and objects in the road — like debris. These are all core Waze features and among the primary reasons why many users opt for Waze over Google Maps.

Google had already offered accident, speed trap and traffic slowdown reports on Android before today.

The new updates follow a steady launch of Waze-like additions to the Google Maps app.

For example, Google launched speed limits and speed trap alerts in more than 40 countries in Google Maps back in May. And it had been testing various driving hazard alerts before now. Google Maps also previously adopted other Waze features, like the ability to add a stop to your route while in navigation mode, or the ability to view nearby gas prices.Mid trip UGC ReportWhen you’re navigating your route in Google Maps, you can tap to add a report, then choose from a long list that now includes: Crash, Speed Trap, Slowdown, Construction, Lane Closure, Disabled vehicle and Object on Road.

With the additions, Google is chipping away at the many reasons why people still turn to Waze.

However, Waze is still better for planning a trip by connecting to your personal calendar or Facebook events, while Google Maps has instead focused more on helping users plan their commutes. Waze also is more social and includes a carpooling service.

The benefit of more users switching to Maps means more aggregate data to help power Google’s other products. Data collection from Google Maps is behind features like those that show the wait times, popular times and visit duration at local businesses, for example. Plus, Google Maps is a jumping off point for Google’s My Business platform, which has more recently been challenging Facebook Pages by allowing Maps users to follow their favorite businesses to track promotions and events, and even message the businesses directly.

Google says the new Google Maps features start rolling out globally on Android and iOS this week.

Google Maps adds biking and ridesharing options to transit directions for multi-mode commutes

Google is introducing combo navigation directions that pair ridesharing and biking options with transit guidance. Starting today, when you search from directions using Google Maps and select the ‘transit’ tap, you’ll see ridesharing options included when the nearest station is a bit further than most people might expect to go on foot. Similarly, you’ll also see routes with bike suggestions for certain legs, all listed alongside routes that stick to just transit alone for a full range of options.

The new hybrid navigation options will include useful info life the cost of rideshare segments, as well as wait times and traffic conditions. You’ll be able to specify your preferred rideshare provider from this available through Google Maps in your area, and also pick which rideshare method you prefer (ie., pool or economy).

[gallery ids="1874327,1874326"]

Bikers will get route directions specific to the best paths and roads for bikes to takes, and in both cases, all of the available info will be fed into providing an overall ETA, so you can make an informed decision about which route and method of transportation to take depending on when you need to be where you’re going.

Google says that the combined transit/ridesharing navigation will start rolling out today on both Android and iOS, and that iOS users will start seeing the biking options today, with Android to follow in the coming weeks.

Google Travel adds flight price notifications and a limited time flight price guarantee

tp animation full no zoom alpha 1Google is building out its travel product with more features to convince you to use it to book flights and plan trips directly, instead of having to go anywhere else. The company is adding more sophisticated pricing features, including historical price comparison for specific itineraries – and notifications about when a price is likely to spike or when it’s at the absolute lowest. It’s also offering a pricing guarantee for bookings made in the next couple of weeks, so you’ll get be refunded the difference if Google says a flight price won’t drop and it subsequently does.

For any flights booked through Google that originate in the U.S. (regardless of destination) between August 13 and September 2, for which Google sends you an alert notifying you that the price is predicted to be at its lowest, the company will alert you if it does drop and then send you a refund on the price difference between what it predicted (ie., what you paid) and the lowest actual fare.

It’s an attractive deal, and the limited time offer is probably only even available because this is new and Google wants to make sure people feel absolutely comfortable trusting their predictions. The company likely has the most readily available, cross-airline information about flight availability, route popularity and price in the world, however, backed by some of the most sophisticated machine learning on the planet, so it sounds like it’s probably a pretty safe bet for them to make.

Google Travel is also adding a number of features once you actually book you trip – it’ll suggest next steps for planning your trip, and then help you find the best neighbourhoods, hotels, restaurants and stuff to do. Plus, reservations and other trip details will automatically carry over to the Google Maps app on your iOS or Android.

Overall, it’s clear that Google is making an aggressive play to own your overall travel and trip planning – and it has the advantage of having more data, better engineering, and a whole lot more in the way of design skills when compared to just about every dedicated travel booking company out there.

Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps, with a broader launch that will be available to all iOS and Android devices that have system-level support for AR. On iOS, that means ARKit-compatible devices, and on Android, that means any smartphones that support Google’s ARcore, so long as ‘Street View’ is also available where you are.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone (this might take a couple weeks depending on when you actually get pushed the update). We took a look at some of the features available with the early version in March, and it sounds like the version today should be pretty similar, including the ability to just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the ‘Directions’ button and then navigating to ‘Walking,’ then tapping ‘Live View’ which should appear newer the bottom of the screen.

Live View
The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk – instead, in provides quick, easy and super useful orientation, by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Google Maps is also getting a number of other upgrades, including a one-stop ‘Reservations’ tab in Maps for all your stored flights, hotel stays and more – plus it’s backed up offline. This, and a new redesigned Timeline which is airing on Android devices only for now, should also be rolling out to everyone over the next few weeks.

Google Maps now shows users discounts from nearby restaurants in India

Google said today that it has started to display discounts from restaurants in its Maps app in India as the Mountain View giant works to expand its ever growing reach and relevance in one of its key overseas markets.

The company today rolled out an update to add three new features to Google Maps app in India. Users can now see a new ‘offers’ option in the ‘explore tab’ that will display promotional offers from local restaurants. Google said it has partnered with EazyDiner, a table reservation platform, to display offers from over 4,000 restaurants. The feature is live for 11 metro cities in India.

Restaurant offers are just the beginning, as the company plans to ink deals with more partners and expand to more categories in future, it said. Users can also book a table to a restaurant directly from the Maps app. Google did not reveal the financial agreement it had with EazyDiner, a five-year-old New Delhi-based startup that has raised more than $13 million to date.

google maps

The new offering comes as Google explores way to make more money off Google Maps. The company maintains a Google Maps Platform for enterprise customers, and has raised access price over the years, but it has yet to monetize the consumer-facing part of the service in a significant way.

As part of today’s announcement, the company has also revamped the ‘explore tab’ in India to “reflect the rich diversity of local neighborhoods and communities,” said Krish Vitaldevara and Chandu Thota, Directors of Google Maps, in a blog post. As part of the fresh paint job, Google said it has added seven shortcuts to give users quick navigation to restaurants, ATMs, shopping, hotels, pharmacy, and of course, offers.

Additionally, there is also an option in the explore tab to get directions to top areas in each city. The company said it has used machine learning to identify these areas. “Besides your own city, you can also look up other Indian cities by just searching the city name — an easy way to get up to speed before you travel,” Vitaldevara and Thota wrote.

The third feature, dubbed ‘For You’, displays personalized recommendations for new restaurants and other trending places. Users in India can now also follow a business and get updates and news on events

“This feature also uses the ‘Your Match’ score, which uses machine learning to combine what we know about millions of places with the information you’ve added — restaurants you’ve rated, cuisines you’ve liked, and places you have visited. The first time you use this feature you can select the areas/localities you are interested in, and get more personalized and relevant recommendations over time,” the executives wrote.

Google continues to bulk up its Maps offerings in India. In recent months, it has added the ability to check if a cab goes off the usual route, and check real-time status of trains and buses, among other features.

The company, which has amassed over 300 million users in India, continues to use the nation as a testbed for many of its services. This approach has helped Google, which operates Android mobile operating system that runs on 98% of smartphones in India, gain wide adoption in the country.

But it has also instilled an antitrust probe on its influence in the nation.

Meituan, Alibaba, and the new landscape of ride-hailing in China

Instead of switching between apps to secure a ride during rush hour, people in China can now hail from different companies using a single app. Some of the country’s largest internet companies — including ride-hailing giant Didi itself — are placing bets on this type of aggregation service.

The nascent model is reminiscent of a feature Google Maps added in early 2017 allowing users to hail Uber, Lyft, Gett and Hailo straight from its navigation app. A few months later, AutoNavi, a maps app owned by Alibaba, debuted a similar feature in China. Other big names like Baidu, Hellobike, Meituan and Didi subsequently joined forces with third-party ride-booking services rather than building their own.

The trend underscores changes in China’s massive ride-hailing industry of 330 million users (in Chinese). The government is tightening rules around vehicle and driver accreditation, leading to a widescale driver shortage. Meanwhile, established carmakers including BMW and state-owned Shouqi are entering the fray, offering premium rides with better-trained fleet drivers, but they face an uphill battle with Didi, which gobbled up Uber China in 2016.

By corraling various ride-booking services, an aggregator can shorten wait time for users. For new ride-hailing players, riding on a billion-user platform like Meituan opens up wider user acquisition channels.

These ride-hailing marketplaces let users request rides from any number of third-party services available. At the end of the trip, users pay directly through the aggregator, which normally takes a commission of about 10%, although none of the players have disclosed how revenue is exactly divided with their mobility partners.

In comparison, a ride-hailing operator such as Didi charges about 20% from each trip since they take care of driver management, customer support and other dirty work which, to a great extent, helps build the moat around their business.

Here’s a look at who the aggregators are.

Google Maps can now predict how crowded your bus or train will be

Google Maps just got a lot more useful for commuters. The company today announced a pair of updates for its mapping application — one that will offer live traffic delays for buses in the cities where it didn’t already provide real-time updates, and another that will tell you how crowded your bus, train, or subway car will be.

The latter is perhaps the more interesting of the two, as it represents a new prediction technique Google has been perfecting for over half a year. Starting in October, the company began to ask Google Maps users to rate their journey if they had traveled during peak commuting hours of 6 am to 10 am. Google asked about how many seats were available or if it was standing room only, in order to identify which lines had the highest number of crowdedness reports.

tokyo crowdedness framed.max 1000x1000

Over time, it was able to model this data into a new prediction capability designed to tell transit riders how packed their bus or train would be.

It also used this data to create rankings of the most crowded routes and stops around the world.

Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo dominated the rankings for the most-crowded transit lines, as each city had 3 lines in the top 10. Meanwhile, New York’s L train is the only one in the U.S. to rank in the top 10.

This isn’t the first time Google has used its massive Maps footprint to make predictions about crowds. The company had already introduced similar features for predicting the size of the crowd at restaurants and other retail locations.

In addition, Google today expanded its ability to alert bus riders to delays.

ETTs

In December 2017, the company began offering real-time information provided by local transit agencies to transit riders. But this data wasn’t available in all cities. To address the problem, Google is launching live traffic delays in those markets where the information has been lacking — like Atlanta, GA.

To make its predictions, Google is combining the bus route details with the data it’s collecting from users who have consented to anonymized data sharing. This is the same data collection mechanism it uses to predict the crowds at local businesses today. Essentially, the company is turning Google Maps into a powerful tool to understand the movement of people in the world. But many users may not know they’ve been opted into this data-sharing by default. In fact, they probably will think the transit data is coming from the city — not from the app installed on their phone and millions of others.

In any event, users will now be able to see the bus delays, how long the delay will be, and adjusted travel times based on these live conditions.

Google says the new features are rolling out on Google Maps in nearly 200 cities worldwide on both Android and iOS today.

 

 

Google responds to a WSJ report that concluded there are millions of fake business listings on Maps

After a Wall Street Journal investigation concluded that there are millions of fake business listings on Google Maps, the company has issued a response detailing the measures it takes to combat the problem.

According to estimates from online advertising experts surveyed by the WSJ, there are “roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day,” with hundreds of thousands more fake listings appearing every month. Many are placed by businesses that specialized creating fake listings for clients that want to boost their information above competitors in search results.

According to a search expert interviewed by the WSJ, a 2017 academic study paid for by Google that found only 0.5% of local searches researchers examined were fake was skewed by limited data.

In the company’s response, Google Maps product director Ethan Russell wrote that of the more than 200 million listings added to Google Maps over the years, only a “small percentage” are fake. He said that last year Google took down more than 3 million fake business profiles, including more than 90% that were removed before users could see them. Google’s systems identified 85% of the listings removed, while 250,000 were reported by users. The company also disabled 150,000 user accounts found to be abusive, a 50% increase from 2017.

Russell wrote that the company is “continually working on new and better ways to fight these scams using a variety of ever-evolving manual and automated systems,” but can’t share more details about them because otherwise scammers might find a way to get around them.

The WSJ report comes as another Google-owned service, YouTube, is under scrutiny for how it fights abuse at scale. YouTube released its first anti-abuse report last year, but problematic content, including hate speech, continues to be a major problem and the platform’s critics say it haphazardly enforces its own policies.

Along with Apple, Amazon and Facebook, Google’s parent company Alphabet is currently facing antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, and its search business is expected to go under scrutiny.