Why consider a Google Maps alternative? Google Maps probably is the easiest to use free mapping site/app. But nothing is truly free, right? As the saying goes, “TANSTAAFL!“ Google collects data: every place search, whose house on which you repeatedly zoom, what directions you request, and on and on. I don’t know about you, but that’s a steep price to pay! We’ll discuss five alternatives (plus a bonus!) to Google Maps that will help you reclaim your privacy, which is now more important than ever.
How Google Maps Affects your Privacy
Google Maps, like every other Google product, tracks you in multiple ways, whether through the web app, the Android or iPhone native app, or through data that your phone shares with Google. Put simply, the Google Maps app can track your location, period. You can have your phone limit the location data to only those times when the Maps app is active, and you can tell Google not to save your location data, but this article is not about that. This is about severing ties with Google. Happily there are many options available for mapping and route navigation apps.
Open Source Maps - Open Source Google Maps alternatives
In our next round of Google Maps alternatives, we’ll investigate two open source (-ish) solutions. The first is pure open source and the second is a “freemium” app that uses the same open source data.
OpenStreetMap: The Pure Open-Source Google Maps Alternative
Our first Google Maps alternative, OpenStreetMap, could be referred to as the “Wikipedia of Maps.” The app is managed by a non-profit and all of the data is created, verified, and updated by the users. If you find missing or erroneous data, all you have to do is register for an account and suggest the change. For the area where I live and work, the map data is much more detailed than the data on Google Maps.
There aren’t a lot of fancy features. Even though it may be short on sizzle, the steak seems to be solid. As I mentioned above, I’ve noticed instances where OpenStreetMap has more detail than Google’s offering. I found this because I thought of a park near my house where Google doesn’t show the park’s internal roads and parking areas on Google Maps. I checked it out on OpenStreetMap and, not only does it show the internal roads, it shows pavilions and other structures within the park (all missing from Google). OpenStreetMap wins that point.
OpenStreetMap will provide directions by car, bicycle or by foot. It does not appear to have directions by public transportation available. Also, with some routes, I noticed that while the map is accurate and exactly the route that I would take (knowing the local “insights”), the labeling is sometimes spotty. But that is something that I can contribute to the dataset.
Overall, I would give OpenStreetMap an honest try, for a week or two, to see how it works for you.
OsmAnd: Open-Source Maps, Plus More Features - A True Google Maps Alternative
If you like the idea of open-source maps, but would like a richer feature set, then OsmAnd may be right for you. OsmAnd uses OpenStreetMap data but adds more features that make it a competitive Google Maps alternative.
OsmAnd adds a lot of features over OpenStreetMap, but some of those features are only available to the subscription version. OsmAnd has a free version with limited features, which still has a richer feature set than OpenStreetMap. OsmAnd is created using a native Android or iOS app that you install via your phone’s app store. The core functionality is enhanced using various free or paid plugins. The plugins add features beyond Google Maps and bring OsmAnd into the big leagues of mapping, navigation and travel-related apps.
For the most full-featured experience, OsmAnd is the choice. Try out the free version for yourself.
A Potential Third Alternative: Apple Maps
When Apple first released its maps app, some of the inaccuracies were comical. Luckily they quickly made the maps accurate enough to be useful. Considering Apple’s historical stance on user privacy, up until a few days ago (i.e., before 10 Jan 2021) I would have easily recommended Apple Maps. Sadly, however, Apple has recently taken a stance on censorship that alienates many users. If Apple changes its position on free speech, I could recommend its app over Google’s but, at this time, no. I will keep it on the watch list, though.
Guides To Protect your Privacy
We have read and recommend the following books. Kevin Mitnick is a valuable resource to help you protect your privacy. Note: These links are affiliate links. We participate in Amazon’s referral program, so if you make qualified purchases through one of these links, we’ll make a small commission, but it doesn’t change the price you pay.
If you want to start with just one of Mitnick’s books right now? We recommend, The Art of Invisibility, which teaches you how to be online without leaving yourself exposed to hackers or to other “entities” who want to track your every click and move.