How open is mapillary

this might be a sensitive topic - so let’s all stay civil :wink:

mapillary is great, and fairly open, and very friendly towards openstreetmap (osm) - which is where most of the mapillary contributors come from. the osm community is also all psyched about openness, sharing and other hippie-things.

for such open-minded individuals, an important question could be “how open is mapillary ?”
sure, we can view the images. we can use them for osm. but can anybody use the data we contribute ? “data” in this case would be the photos and the associated metadata we upload.

looking at the legal terms, that does not seem to be the case :
“Specific Prohibited Uses. You will not (a) use the Mapillary Solution in a manner that gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of any Content, including Metadata” (from Mapillary Terms of Use ).

now, one the one hand, it is understandable - mapillary is trying to get more venture capital, expand and survive the fight against massive companies that are much, much more closed (looking at you, “don’t do evil” google).
on the other hand, the volunteers are spending a lot of time and money (all that hardware, driving around, uploading…) to provide the crowdsourced content. being openness-geeks we are, we love what mapillary has enabled us to do (both contribute to osm and participate in one of the most open streetviews), but at the same time we recognise that some of the data we contribute gets locked up at mapillary. we donate it.

probably nobody would argue that mapillary should open up all the data - the 3d model, road sign detection, face/licence plate detection - that’s fine, it is not the data the contributors upload, it is derived data. note - community contributes (a lot ? a bit ?) to the blurring and roadsign detection, thus they might get questions on how much is that donating, and how much is contributing to the public knowledge. but that’s a different topic.

with the (mostly) mapillary-generated data being fine closed, the user uploaded data - images + their metadata - currently seems to be locked up.

and this is where another project that was dormant for quite some time comes into play. openstreetview is sort of like mapillary, just more open - Cooperate with Mapillary? / Difference to Mapillary? · Issue #60 · kartaview/ · GitHub . most importantly, the photo metadata is not closed, and there already are users that avoid mapillary because of this clause : Add data licence · Issue #6 · kartaview/ · GitHub

with the lengthy introduction done, here would be my two questions, both to the mapillary community & company.

  1. as a mapillary contributor, how important is openness to you ? do you think all the data, contributed by you, should be shared ? how much are you willing to tolerate being closed as long as the benefit to openstreetmap is bigger than any other project ?

  2. as the mapillary company, do you see a chance of becoming even more open, sharing more data - at least all the data your contributors have uploaded ?
    note that we all (come forward if you disagree) want you to succeed and become a massive open data collection that is also commercially strong - but what if you grow up and become evil, just like google ?


As a contributor to mapillary I have had the same thoughts about what I am giving away and what I share with others.
So here are my thoughts:

  • The thirst and most imortant, the data I give away has a best before date, so if I in the future don’t like Mapillary anymore I can quit donating and my contribution will gett less and less valuable.
  • I like the underdog and like to support the underdog. Mapillary is the underdog :smile:
  • I am genuinly interested in seeing what Mapillary can do with my pictures and how they are developping their techniques.
  • I like to document my neighbourhood without to save all the pictures on a harddisk and I like to share it with others…

Hi there,
I think Jan Eriks blog post summarizes this quite nicely - you can download, edit, delete your own data now, and we share the image metadata in a freely downloadable ODBL database back, see . Would that be along these lines? What else would you see as reasonable?

We are really trying to be as open as possible without infringing upon privacy and re-sharing concerns and also take into account that the dataset we deal with is not as cheap to generate and maintain as e.g. Wikipedia or OSM (which you both can host on basically a laptop).


I have been at SOTM Brussels and I found OSM rather to be the most secretive, thought policed and closed open source society I ever met.

In the terms I find no reference to the Creative Commons license, but acording to the summary, images are shared by Mapillary as CC BY-SA 4.0.

In the terms there are several limitations, both in how much you may bulk download, how you may share Mapillary data in large amounts and in some cases what you may use it for,

To me, those statements seems to conflict. If the images are CC and I have downloaded an amount, then nobody can prohibit me from using it to e.g. “real-time navigation or route guidance”.

Further, I do not see that users license the images as CC to Mapillary. Mapillary get to use them royalty free and currently one part of Mapillary is saying the images are CC. But they may not be that tomorrow.

So legally speaking, it would be great to have clarified:

  1. How can CC and the current terms be mixed? What conditions do really apply?
  2. Does anything prevent Mapillary from going closed and still use the images? There is a chance that Mapillary will be sold to new owners who are not as idealistic as the current ones.

As others I have spend a lot of time and money providing a lot of images. I simply do not want to see them closed down. I believe images have historic value, and in 30 or 100 years I believe the images from today still have value to The World.

I hope you can answer my questions above, @peter. Mapillary has a lot of venture capital, so there is a risk that policies may change even if you and Jan Erik do not agree with the changes. It is my experience that it is much easier to come to terms when you are friends, rather when you are not, so I prefer to ask the tough questions now when everybody (myself included) loves Mapillary.

I would say that we (the users) giv Mapillary the right to distribute our images by any mean (so also by distributing them under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license. They can also change the licensetype (for new pictures) without changing the Terms and conditions.

1.3 Mapillary User Licenses to Us. You and each Mapillary User hereby grant to us the … and distribute without restriction (including via any medium) Content

But the cannot change the licensing for the old pictures because you cannot revolke the CC BY-SA 4.0 license

@Harry, i wouldn’t agree that the data you give has an expiry date - even more, the data we give now is more useful than the data we give later in many cases. one can always add new imagery, but one cannot go back in time and take photos of how some place looked before construction etc. i agree with your other points, but they seem to say “i don’t care about openness that much” - which is fine, of course :slight_smile:

@peter, thank you a lot for the quick response (and for hanging out on IRC every now and then :wink: )
the changes, mentioned in that blogpost definitely are a step towards a more open mapillary and are very welcome. ability for users to download individual original images they uploaded is helpful if one wants to see the blurred streetsign right away, but doesn’t insure against future mapillary turning evil or having a disastrous dataloss :slight_smile:
it is also unclear what’s in the shared database, the blog post says “There is now a database with Mapillary data aligned to OpenStreetMap ways” - that doesn’t sound like the original exif data.
the perfect state would be free access for anybody to the original (well, blurred probably…) images + metadata, but please note that i am not requesting that. as mentioned, it is important to me that mapillary succeeds and prospers as well. maybe it can do it in such a great way that the data eventually is free and shared, and mapillary has successful services around it - but there’s always the risk that another, evil company comes along, builds some service with that data and pushes it through their existing network effect.
so i’m wishing mapillary success in finding that way of great commercial success with open and shared data.

as for your argument that wikipedia or os osm can be hosted on a laptop, let’s do a quick calculation (offtopic, if anybody wants to dive in more speculations, let’s have another thread :slight_smile: ).
at 90 million images, let’s estimate the avg image size of 4mb (a lot of small video images, some big images). that’s ~343TB - let’s round up to 350. a consumer retail 4tb drive ~ 100 usd. let’s hope “disk manufacturer math” is offset by cheaper price buying bulk. so that’s 8750 usd pure storage - a couple high-end laptop price.
what, it’s not enough for hosting ? sure, but a laptop is not enough to host wikipedia or osm either :wink:
i’m not saying that hosting mapillary is cheap - it isn’t. and that is an important factor when navigating that space between closed and open, just that it maybe isn’t the most important factor.

@filipc, that seems like a very strange offtopic statement. from my experience, osm is one of the most open, the most anarchistic communities. but a separate channel would have to be used to find out what the problem encounter was.

@tryl, excellent points. as i mentioned earlier, this is not an easy topic, especially so for mapillary - but indeed it is much better to have mutual understanding and commitment to prevent potential disasters in the future.

The info gathered from the photos has a commercial best before date. For exempel selling trafficsign databases to a roadadministrator or 3d pointclouds to buildingcompanies will only work if the data is up to date.
I agree with your point that historic images can’t be replaced, but the commercial value is limited.

it would limit commercial appeal, but surely there are other aspects - and for most uses, even a bit older data is good (for example, buildings don’t change that often).
as for road administration, I’d hope people maintaining road signs have a database with them already - the only use would be auto-detecting signs that go missing :slight_smile:

it is an interesting topic, but a bit different from the original one - probably best moved to a separate thread if there’s more interest.

You would be surprised how little some road administrations know.
When you design a road, you make a roadsign plan and place the roadsigns accordingly. Then the plan gets stored with the other drawings in an archive and not in a dbase.
There are many good reasons to put it in a dbase, but often there isn’t a good communication between the road and the gis department.

Even old data can be used for training various types of software. For example for automatic car driving. One of the things that you cannot do according to the terms, but which you can do with CC images.

But the strength of open source and free software is, that anybody you start research and have all this data available from the start. Just as with OSM. But not with Mapillary. You will not be able to make an Open Automatic Car using Mapillary, or even turn by turn navigation, in the same way as Mapillary uses OSM data.

Mapillary is definately not cheap to run - all those images online, bandwith in many formats, backup, processing etc. 400 TB is around $12k a month on Amazon. That is just that one copy, no backup, no multiple sizes apart from the originals. Add all the other costs.

Mapillary is taking care of getting those money, hiring people, managing them etc. We pay by not having the same freedoms as with a truely free project like OSM. As with everyting, we must weight the cost vs. benefits.

@tryl, absolutely - and i believe it is very important for these tradeoffs to be clearly documented, which seems to be a bit lacking right now.

looking at the landscape of “environment imaging”, google acquired panoramio (a site with user-contributed, geotagged photos). these photos are now being rolled in google streetview. mapillary is inviting panoramio users, which i think is great.

but what can mapillary offer to them, if those users do not like their contributions being sucked into a closed ecosystem ? the current state. there does not seem to be any guarantee that google, oracle or somebody else couldn’t buy out mapillary. at that point nothing prevents them from closing the access and leaving the contributors a tiiiny bit disappointed.

i will continue contributing, but that risk has some effect on how much effort i put in this project.

there does not seem to be any guarantee that google, oracle or somebody else couldn’t buy out mapillary.

I agree:

as a mapillary contributor, how important is openness to you?

For me it’s rather the other way around: I’m ready to waive the rights on my Mapillary pictures because it seems to be the only alternative to Panoramio atm.

But it took me some time to figure out that there is no photo layer in OSM (

I have given this a lot of thought.

Mapillary is open right now, but it can change - also the license for old images you have not yet downloaded. Their software on GitHub is free as in speech[*], but the images are not free as in speech and I think, their terms limits the use of the images in ways that are not compatible with the Creative Commons license. You cannot download all the images you like and if you want to use them for certain purposes (even non comemrcially), you may have to take it court.

Should Mapillary go evil or sue someone for breaking of the terms, but where the use is legal under the CC license, they will without a doubt loose most of the good will they have in the open communities right now. It will most likely make someone start a fully open Mapillary and a lot of users will follow. For that reason I think Mapillary will think more than twice before doing anything evil.

My future in Mapillary:
I will continue to contribute.
I will save all my images in case Mapillary should go evil - I actually started saving them when the change sets stopped working a year ago.
I will offer anybody a huge download of all of my 2-3 TB of images under the CC license - will soon get a 300 MBit fiber anyway :smile:.

[*] Free as in speech means essentially, that you can do whatever you want with them, as long as you attribute the original contributers. This is the ideal in open source / free software / open data and some people bileves this is the only morally correct way to distribute software and content like images.

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Firstly, I think this is a pretty important discussion and I’m happy it’s taking place. Also: Thanks @Richlv for your nice opening of this discussion

I agree with most things said above, I think Mapillary is awesome, I like to contribute to it and I won’t stop doing so. But I would like it more if I could contribute to a database of photos that is guaranteed free for all to use, forever.

Some people were commenting on the limitations on the use of Mapillary. To them I’d like to say that it’s important to distinguish between the data and the services of Mapillary; if you say that you should be able to use the photos in any way you like you have a point, but if you say Mapillary should pay for the bandwidth so you can download their entire database you’re being unreasonable. Data should be free, services should cost money.
Note that I’m not a lawyer, nor did I study the user terms. So I don’t know what part of the limitations is on the service and what part on the data usage.

Also I think that we as a community owe a lot to Mapillary, so I could live with some limitations. But also Mapillary owes a lot to the community, so some kind of influence on decisions would be nice.
I also have a practical solution for this without turning Mapillary into a democracy: Guaranty everyone the possibility to pull out all their photos at any time. In this way community members can, in case of a takeover by Oracle for example, vote with their photos.

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I read through the posts here and it is easy to understand it is not an easy to solve issue.

I have used Mapillary for a while, more actively recently. I just got to know openstreetview and at a first glance the web-interface wasn’t that easy to use to view images. Anyway I guess it is more oriented to mapping in OSM.

To the point, it seems to me both systems have partially the same goals and means (at least for OMS mapping and open collaborative data collection). Soooo, first came to mind, would it be possible that all users in both systems could have a setting where they can decide that the data is to be uploaded also to the other system? So a Mapillary user could check “Send all my pictures and data to openstreetview upload” and a openstreetview users “Send all my pictures and data to mapillary”.

In my opinion, this would solve several problems above. Mapillary can create value on the images, and the images in their servers are licences as mentioned above (including the controversies and such), still the images would be available with more open openstreetview (SO concern users about openess of the data they are collected could forget about it and focus on collecting data). In the end, this would increase hugely the amount of imagery available in both systems → win-win, wouldn’t it?

And if you give the option to the users to decide on the images already uploaded (how many more new (old) images would go to each system? that may be significant ;).

I know I am probably overseing lots of licensing and technical issues. So consider my post as a wild idea if you like :).

Thanks to Mapillary and OpenStreetView for all their efforts!



Well said Harry. I agree whole heartedly.

There’s this weird ominous recent change of Mapillary closing up the issue tracker. While it is a continuation of this thread, it is a tad different, thus I moved that topic to a new thread.