Why Doesn't Google Maps Use Its Own Subdomain?

June 1, 2021

I’ve recently moved to a new place and realized that I need a haircut. So I opened Google Maps on my laptop with the hope of finding a decent barbershop nearby. Being a bit lazy, I just pressed the button that would center the map around my location automatically. A message appeared asking me to change location permissions in the site settings. I’m not enthusiastic about providing even more data to Google, but, I figured, whatever, Maps can have my location.

When I opened the site settings, I was a bit surprised because all the permission changes would apply not only to Google Maps, but also to Google Search which uses www.google.com domain name. I was surprised because I had been under the impression that Google Maps uses maps.google.com domain name; had this been the case, it would have allowed me to apply separate site settings to Google Maps only1. But then I checked the URL, and nope—it’s www.google.com/maps instead.

Why did I think that Google Maps uses its own subdomain? Because every other major Google service does!

Now, you can enter maps.google.com into the address bar, but it will simply redirect you to www.google.com/maps. So why does Google make an exception for Maps? I don’t know for sure but I am hypothesizing that the answer lies in how I uncovered this in the first place. It could be the case that the best way for Google Search to gain access to users’ location in browsers is through Maps where providing such access seems reasonable. This information might be so valuable that it warrants Google Maps not utilizing its own subdomain.

In the end, I didn’t provide the access, and simply entered my postal code. There is a barbershop a few blocks away with a perfect 5.0 star rating (with a large enough sample size), so I guess I’ll try them!

Update #1 (June 2, 2021): In an exchange on Hacker News, I was told that Google Maps had utilized maps.google.com before, but switched to www.google.com/maps about two years ago. So this does seem to be a calculated move.

  1. I think this is how all Chromium-based browsers handle permissions, i.e. different settings can be applied to subdomainA.domain.tld and subdomainB.domain.tld. ↩︎