Can you use Google Earth at work?

This thread on Google Earth Community leads to an interesting question: Does or does not Google Earth’s licensing agreement permit corporate employees to use a non-commercial version? Google’s Lrae seems to think that it does, whereas many businesses seem to have been convinced that it does not.

It all comes down to how you interpret this paragraph in the licence agreement:

This Software is for non-commercial use only and your rights in the Software are strictly limited to home, personal or recreational use only by you and not for the benefit of third parties.

I’ve always read the licencing agreement as follows: Employees can use Google Earth at work, but only for personal, recreational use… which probably implies to admins and bosses that if you’re using Google Earth at work, you must be wasting company time.

But perhaps Google’s Lrae has in mind a more mixed-use scenario for Google Earth in businesses — one that is more in line with how we use our web browsers at work every day: For consuming all manner of information, some of which is used in business decisions.

If that is the case, perhaps Google could clarify more formally, especially as NASA World Wind presents itself as an open-source alternative without such restrictions on business use.

10 thoughts on “Can you use Google Earth at work?”

  1. Google’s licenses tend to be clearer than the average EULA, and it is clear from the wording that your interpretation is correct. It is fine to use at work personal/recreational reasons. So, if you’re a real estate agent, you can search for a house for yourself, but you can’t use it to show clients the locations of theirs…please insert $500/year.

    There are volume licensing discounts, so if there is a business purpose for your organization, it may not be as expensive as it looks. I have heard of one situation where Google has complained about widespread corporate installs of the software for work use- where people were actually using it as part of their job. I have also heard about bandwidth considerations- if you have paltry bandwidth at your location, it’s probably best to not allow bittorrents, streaming media, or streaming earth.

  2. So if I’m using Google Earth to prepare a business trip I’m already violating the license agreement. This means that every ad placed in Google Earth targeted to business people (e.g. conference hotels) would be completely useless… can’t be?

  3. IANAL but my understanding is that your PC at work is company property. If you install any software on it the license agreement is tied to the machine, not the user. Therefore if you install Google Earth at work you have violated the license agreement, even if you really never use it for work purposes. While a web browser is a good comparision it doesn’t provide you with exclusive access to certain datasets like Google Earth does. I know you can access the same images in Google Maps, but your ability to interact with that data is signigiantly less than in Google Earth. There is simply no way you can legally use the application at work. That being said I don’t really see Google trying to enforce this…. at least not until the actual data ownser start threatening the pull their data licenses. At work World Wind or ArcGIS Explorer will be the applications of choice.

  4. I know first-hand of County governments in the USA that will not deploy the free Google Earth viewer due to that paragraph. And, of course, they are not going to spend $500/seat for Google Earth Pro. It’s because of this that they are also hesitant to publish their GIS data via KML or network links to the public if they can’t even use that data internally. Some cities and counties are obviously ignoring this and probably won’t get penalized, but some people (especially legal departments) interpret licensing verbiage quite literally. If Google “allows” their software to be used in a different manner, then their license agreement needs to explicitly state that and they will see their user base grow accordingly.

  5. Actually it is a different part of the EULA for the free version that is our corporate show-stopper. In the LICENSE GRANT (section 1) it states:

    “You may not use the Software or the geographical information made available for display using the Software, or any prints or screen outputs generated with the Software in any commercial or business environment or for any commercial or business purposes for yourself or any third parties.”

    No matter how you slice the personal use on company computers (common and permitted for email and other web browsing), this statement clearly says the Software cannot be used in a business environment. We burned a lot of legal time tracking this down, but there is no way we would let our thousands of employees use the Free version…so we did the ROI and bought a LOT of Pro licenses.

    The question in the marketplace will become, if ArcGIS Explorer, WW, Local Live, and other digital earth applications remain free…can Google afford to keep these business use license terms?

  6. Well Google Earth and KML got us really excited and we started developing customer solutions based on it’s technology. It didn’t take long before we had legal looking at the licensing and realized we couldn’t use it, not even standalone, which was one of our deployment scenarios. We had to ditch GE and are now developing to WW and AGX (aka ARCGIS Explorer.) Hopefully Microsoft gets on the scene soon also!

    Seems pretty short sighted on Google’s part since wider adoption in the business world means wider adoption everywhere and more channels for the cash cow that is AdWords.

  7. I have spent some time trying to get a clear answer from Google Earth about what is and what is not acceptable use. Some of those efforts are recorded at

    The nutshell summary is that it is worse than pulling teeth to find out specificly what is or is not acceptable.

  8. The beta 4 version is GNU and can be used anywhere. Look inside the Google Earth program files directory the license is in there as GPL.txt and starts out as follows:


    The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software–to make sure the software is free for all its users. This General Public License applies to most of the Free Software

    Foundation’s software and to any other program whose authors commit to using it. (Some other Free Software Foundation software is covered by

    the GNU Library General Public License instead.) You can apply it to

    your programs, too.

  9. Bzzt! sorry, wrong answer. :(

    GPL.txt is there for the GPS plugin, based on gpsbabel. See the ‘releasenotes.txt’, which says in part:

    “Some versions of Google Earth include the executable binary of Robert Lipe’s GPSBabel program. That project has been developed under the GNU Public License and any copies of it can only be distributed if and only if they include a copy of the license.”

  10. Well, I read the newest EULA as you can use it at work but you cannot modify the program to work with or in conjunction other programs such as other navigation software. Ex. you cannot make a TOM-TOM like device using the Google software and sell it. And you cannot use the software to download bulk images, such as building your own topo. Other than that I don’t see any restrictions. The problem with EULA’s is that they are never totally clear and subject to one’s interpretation. Heck, even lawyers probably would argue as to what is or isn’t allowed. Another problem is that EULA’s can change so fast that it may be difficult to keep in compliance.

    Use of Software. For an individual end user, the Software is made available to and may be used by you only for your personal, non-commercial use according to these Terms of Service and the Software documentation. For a business entity end user or government entity end user, the Software may be used by you and your employees for internal use according to these Terms of Service and the Software documentation (individual, business, and government end users are collectively referred to as “You” herein). Restrictions. Except where you have been specifically licensed by Google to do so, You may not use the Software in connection with any products, systems, or applications installed or otherwise connected to or in communication with vehicles for or in connection with: (a) real time route guidance (including without limitation, turn-by-turn route guidance and other routing that is enabled through the use of a sensor); (b) any systems or functions for automatic or autonomous control of vehicle behavior; or (c) dispatch, fleet management or similar applications. You may not use the Software in a manner which gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of numerical latitude and longitude coordinates. You may not use the Software for any bulk printing or downloading of imagery, data or other content.

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