Here’s Why UK Data Group Is Wrong About Apple, Google, Others Needing To Share Mapping Data [Opinion]

Google Maps app is displayed on a smartphone device.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all just shared and shared alike? When it comes to sharing, Americans didn’t get the memo. U.S. tech companies are all about trade secrets, and patents, and non-disclosure agreements. U.S. companies wouldn’t even share information with the FCC if they didn’t have to.

The U.K., however, is a different matter. They believe companies should be forced to share information that would be beneficial to everyone. And U.S. companies do a lot of business in the U.K. That brings us to the latest clash of cultures. The Verge reports, “Google, Apple, and Uber must share mapping data with rivals, says UK data group.”

“In a report published today, the Open Data Institute (ODI) said that ‘data monopolies’ were stifling innovation in the UK. These companies duplicate one another’s efforts, said the report, while using their large financial clout to gain insurmountable leads over would-be rivals. If they shared data, they said, then many services and new technologies — like drone delivery services and self-driving cars — would benefit.”

The concerned group is not entirely wrong. Big companies do have an advantage. But they started out as small companies that overcame a lot of odds to become big companies. No company is guaranteed a spot in the winner’s circle. The ones that won and kept winning look like they have a monopoly on winning. But that is not a problem as long as they came by their winning fairly.

There is a way that governments can even the playing field without stifling the growth of companies. If the U.K. wants all its citizens to have access to services that utilize advanced mapping data, they can produce their own mapping data and make it freely available to everyone.

Street View car
  By Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock

It is not the U.K. building, driving, and maintaining those Street View cars. Apple had to produce its own cars to get mapping data. The government didn’t provide it. Uber is not sponsored by the U.K. government. So there is no reason these companies should help smaller competitors who have not run the same race.

It would indeed be great if there was a repository of exceptionally curated mapping data that was freely available. But there isn’t. And if governments want it to exist, they are going to have to do what the big tech companies are doing and only then can they make it free to everyone.

Smaller competitors become bigger competitors when they are hungry, scrappy, and are forced to figure out new ways of doing things. Google is solving a problem using expensive cars and drivers. A smaller company might solve the problem by using inexpensive drones to achieve the same results. That is how small businesses become big businesses, not by forcing big businesses to hand over the fruits of their labor.