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The Most Awful Google Maps Update Ever? Everything You Need To Know About Pop-Up Ads

Pop-up ad on Google Maps 15 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution/Anthony Higman
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Google Maps is already running in millions of cars on the road, and I won't discuss the reasons again because everybody knows them. This app has become a must-have companion for modern drivers, making every road more convenient, more straightforward, and safer.
However, an alleged change that recently went viral on X (formerly Twitter) promotes anything but safe driving.

A screenshot posted on the social network by Anthony Higman reveals what has been considered the most aggressive ad strategy ever adopted by Google Maps. The application shows a pop-up ad at the bottom of the screen when navigation is enabled, with the user given two options – cancel or add a stop to the location where the promoted business is placed.

If you've used Google Maps before, you certainly know that ads in this application are not new. Google Maps typically displays ads as "promoted pins," highlighting paying businesses on the map. However, they are not supposed to interrupt the navigation experience, as the only way they are displayed is with a pin on the map.

The pop-up that appeared on Higman's screen made some people believe it could be the time to find a Google Maps alternative.

Higman says the banner appeared on the screen without him doing or tapping anything, eventually going away after approximately one minute. The driver did not interact with the ad, so the pop-up banner was dismissed automatically.

The new Google Maps UI
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
There are two critical bits that must be highlighted here.

First, the driver emphasizes he "did not tap anything, this ad just popped up as I was driving and following directions to my destination." Some netizens believed that Google Maps added a new ad engine that automatically triggered the pop-up notification when the driver passed by the location where the business was pinned to the map.

Second, the ad is worryingly distracting. It makes the driver look at the screen, taking their eyes off the road and trying to understand what is displayed on the mobile device. The pop-up banner also includes lots of details the driver would have a hard time reading without focusing on the screen for several seconds, including the name of the business, the Google rating, and the two buttons I told you about – if the driver decides to drive to the advertised location, Google Maps adds a new stop to the configured route.

The aggressive strategy is a big no-no for any navigation app, but fortunately, this isn't how Google Maps is supposed to work, and the ad that appeared on the screen in the middle of navigation was an error.

The new Google Maps UI
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
A post on X from the Google Ads Liaison explains that Google Maps only shows promoted pins without any ad format currently enabled during navigation. This is the format I told you about earlier and, which only displays sponsored locations on the map with a simple pin. Users can tap these pins to view additional information and also get an option to configure navigation to their address.

The promoted pins would indeed appear along the route when driving with Google Maps, but as the Google representative explains, "these ads do not pop up." The reason is as simple as possible: they could become a major source of distraction for the person behind the wheel, so Google Maps only shows them on the map without spamming the driver with banners that would otherwise attract their attention.

So, how did the notification for Royal Farms pop up on the screen? That's the part that Google must decrypt, as Higman says he never tapped the screen. The Google official explains that the pins are specifically configured to "expand only if they're tapped on," so they shouldn't appear on the screen out of the blue.

The new Google Maps UI
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The culprit could come down to a bug, albeit we can all agree that such software glitches are very convenient for Google and Google Maps. The search giant is already looking into the problem, but I doubt we'll get more information on what happened.

Meanwhile, I can't help but remind you that Google Maps is not the only app showing ads. Waze, the other Google-owned navigation app, once displayed pop-up banners at the top of the screen when drivers were waiting for the green light near a sponsored location. Like in Google's case, Waze allowed drivers to see more information about the promoted business, with the notification including a big "Drive there" button that allowed drivers to configure navigation to the location's address.

For now, such aggressive marketing tactics are just an error in Google Maps, and the search giant has no (public) intention of making them a "feature" in its navigation app. If you ever come across such pop-up banners during navigation—without you tapping the promoted pins you see on the map—make sure you drop me a line using the comment box below or the contact form on the site.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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