Developers that use Google Map links for their websites will be charged for heavy usage of the service as of next year, although the search giant claims the new fees are designed to protect small developers.
From January 1, 2012, Google will charge for the Google Maps API service when more than the limit of 25,000 map “hits” are made in a day.
Google is rumoured to be charging $4 per 1,000 views in excess of the limit, although it insists the limit of 25,000 free hits before charging “will only affect 0.35% of users”.
“We understand that the introduction of these limits may be concerning,” Google Maps API product manager Thor Mitchell told BBC News.
“However, with the continued growth in adoption of the Maps API, we need to secure its long-term future by ensuring that even when used by the highest-volume for-profit sites, the service remains viable.”
Google says the new fees are intended to ensure Google Maps remains free for small developers.
“By introducing these limits, we are ensuring that Google can continue to offer the Maps API for free to the vast majority of developers for many years to come,” Mitchell said.
Websites, particularly travel firms, use Google Maps to link customers to a view of the destinations they enquire about.
Businesses can fork out around $10,000 for a Google Maps API Premier licence, which offers unlimited access offers, tech support and control over any advertising shown.
Google has reassured developers that sites which exceed the limits, without setting up a payment system or buying a Premier license, won’t immediately be shut down.
“Your maps will continue to function [but] a warning may be shown on your map and a Maps API Premier sales manager may contact you to discuss your licensing options,” Google says.
Developers worried about the potential cost of the Google Maps API can also use OpenStreetMap, which is free and – in many cases – much more detailed than Google Maps.
However, OpenStreetMap lacks some Google Maps features, most notably an equivalent to Street View, which provides users with 360-degree street-level imagery.
Small businesses in selected countries have recently been able to invite Street View photographers into their shops or eateries to capture images, which are then served up with Google’s online maps.
“With this immersive imagery, potential customers can easily imagine themselves at the business and decide if they want to visit in person,” Google Maps product manager Gadi Royz wrote in a blog.
To allay privacy concerns, Google blurs the faces of bystanders who appear in pictures.