Overture Maps - a Fusion of Open and Commercial Data for a New Era in Mapping

When it comes to creating maps, performing spatial analysis, or building digital simulations of our real world, one thing is crucial: having geospatial data. Depending on your application, you may collect some data from your field, but most likely you will enrich this data with “generic” data such as roads, buildings, or administrative boundaries. There are many data providers, which can be categorized by one criterion: open or proprietary access to their data.

Open and commercial data providers

By far the most popular open data provider is OpenStreetMaps (OSM), a collaborative project that aims to create a free, editable map of the world that anyone can contribute to. Their global community consists of millions of contributors, and you, dear reader, are also welcome to map whatever comes to mind (and is not already mapped). One big advantage of OSM is the high level of detail, e.g. even the type of pedestrian traffic light button and its signal is specified. The quality of OSM data is very high because it is collected and verified by humans. However, there is also a major drawback: the map is only as good as its contributors, which makes OSM lack consistency on a global scale.

Commercial data providers often try to provide more consistency by focusing on less detail. They do this in part by sending people out into the field, but they also spend large sums of their budget on building algorithms to extract information from aerial and satellite imagery. This approach is particularly useful in remote and rapidly changing regions.

In a nutshell, OSM is good at data quality, while commercial vendors are good at data quantity, and this is where Overture Maps comes in.

What is Overture Maps?

Overture Maps is an open data project launched by the Linux Foundation in 2022. Its goal is to create a geospatial data product that is easy-to-use and interoperable, merging the datasets from both open and commercial data contributors. The list of Overture members is long and includes many of the industry’s biggest players, like Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, and TomTom. Now they are teaming up with open data projects to create a larger and more consistent geospatial dataset than ever before.

Merging datasets — Hierarchy and Schema

In order to merge multiple datasets, a specific hierarchy must determine which element to use in case of overlap. The key criterion here is reliability. Overture Maps considers human-collected data to be more reliable than machine-collected data.

For example, Overture Maps ranks OSM building footprint data higher than Microsoft’s building footprint data, detected by machine learning algorithms. If a building has both OSM and Microsoft data available, Overture uses the OSM data. However, if there’s only Microsoft data, Overture uses that instead. In this case Overture aggregates OSM data with Microsoft machine learning data to provide a more comprehensive picture of buildings.

Another example: If there is no height for a building in OSM, Overture adds the height estimates from USGS LiDAR, a remote sensing program that uses laser light to measure distances and generate detailed, three-dimensional information about the Earth’s surface.

Of course, this hierarchy is much more extensive and detailed than described here. Besides the data collection method, data reliability varies by location, feature type (road, building, boundary, …), and more.

Another important aspect of integrating multiple data sources is creating a schema (or data model) into which all features are transformed. To do this, Overture created a schema that abstracts the attributes of a feature to a higher level. Imagine a very precise dataset and a less precise one. The only way to merge them and keep them consistent is to zoom out and bring them up to a higher level. For example, buildings categorized in the previous dataset as a warehouse, shed, or apartment building are now classified into a well-defined set of broad building types. Classifying data from multiple data sources into your schema takes a lot of time and effort. Overture Maps takes care of this task and eliminates much of the processing on the user side.

Data access

Speaking of the user side, it is important to understand that Overture Maps sees itself as a data provider, not a service provider. This means that their focus is on creating the data, not distributing it. It is made for developers who want to use it to build their own custom services. You won’t find a download button on their website to get the data. (Aside from the fact that it would probably crash your local machine if you worked with these huge datasets covering the entire planet.) Instead, they provide the data with an API as cloud-optimized Parquet files, making it easy to integrate into your cloud-native solution.

Overture Maps currently provides five data layers: Admins (administrative boundaries), Base (water surfaces and land bodies), Places (real-world facilities and places of interest), Transportation (transportation infrastructure like roads, cycleways, and ferry routes), and Buildings. It is expected that more data layers will be added in the future.

Further resources and support

Overture Maps is a project in the making. It will be exciting to see how this data product evolves, who joins the project, and what is built with it.

If you want to learn more about Overture, check out their official website. Also, I highly recommend this episode of the MapScaping Podcast for a deeper dive into the topic.

Interested in working with Overture data or geospatial data in general? Mapular is a company focused on custom geospatial solutions, we would love to hear from you.

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Status: November 2023

With the following privacy policy, we would like to inform you about how we process your personaldata in accordance with the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This privacy policy appliesto all processing of personal data carried out by us, both in the context of the provision of our servicesand in particular on our websites (hereinafter collectively referred to as "online offer").

1. Controller

Controller in the sense of the GDPR is

Mapular UG (haftungsbeschränkt)
c/o TOG The Office Group (Germany) GmbH
Kronenstraße 63
10117 Berlin

Phone: +49 30 20994953
E-mail: info@mapular.com

2. Data Protection Officer

You can reach our data protection officers as follows:

secjur GmbH
Steinhöft 9
20459 Hamburg

Phone: +49 40 228 599 520
Email: dsb@secjur.com

You can contact our data protection officer directly at any time with all questions andsuggestions regarding data protection and the exercise of your rights.

3. Definition

This privacy policy is based on the terminology of the GDPR. For your convenience, we wouldlike to explain some important terms in this context in more detail:

  • Personal Data means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified,directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, anidentification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or socialidentity of that natural person.
  • Data subject is any identified or identifiable natural person whose personal data areprocessed by the controller.
  • Processing: means any operation or set of operations which is performed on personaldata or on sets of personal data, whether or not by automated means, such ascollection, recording, organization, structuring, storage, adaptation or alteration,retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwisemaking available, alignment or combination, restriction, erasure or destruction.
  • Recipient means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or another body,to which the personal data are disclosed, whether a third party or not. However, publicauthorities which may receive personal data in the framework of a particular inquiry inaccordance with Union or Member State law shall not be regarded as recipients; theprocessing of those data by those public authorities shall be in compliance with theapplicable data protection rules according to the purposes of the processing.
  • Third Party means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or body otherthan the data subject, controller, processor and persons who, under the direct authorityof the controller or processor, are authorized to process personal data.
4. Data for the provision of the website and the creation of the log files

If you use this website for purely informational purposes without otherwise transmitting data tous (e.g., by registering or using the contact form), we collect via server log files technicallynecessary data that are automatically transmitted to our server, including:
  • Date and time of access 
  • IP address
  • Host name of the accessing computer 
  • Website from which the website was accessed; websites accessed via the website
  • Visited page on our website; Amount of data transferred 
  • Information about the browser type and version used 
  • Operating system 
  • Access status (e.g., whether the web page could be accessed without problems or whether you received an error message) 
  • Use of website functions 
  • Entered search terms 
  • Access frequency of the individual web page 
  • Data volume transferred 
  • Other websites that you visit starting from this website, either by clicking on a link on this website or by directly entering the domain in the input bar in the same window of your browser
The temporary storage of data is necessary for the course of a website visit in order to display our website to you. This processing is technically necessary to ensure the functionality of the website and the security of the information technology systems. The legal basis of the processing is thus Art. 6 para. 1 p. 1 lit. f GDPR, in order to guarantee the provision, security and stability of our website.The data is deleted as soon as it is no longer required to achieve the purpose for which it was collected. In the case of the provision of the website, this is the case when the respective session has ended. The log files are stored up to 24 hours directly and exclusively accessible to administrators. After that, they are only indirectly available via the reconstruction of backup tapes and are finally deleted after four weeks.This website is hosted via the Content Delivery Network (CDN) of Webflow. The provider is Webflow, Inc, 398 11th Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA (Webflow). Webflow is a tool for creating and hosting websites. A content delivery network is a network of spatially distributed, possibly interconnected servers. The server that is closest to the respective user of the website is always used. The CDN used here includes servers in North America and parts of Europe. Webflow hosts our website using the content delivery networks of Amazon Web Services, Inc., 410 Terry Avenue North, Seattle WA 98109. Although the server is located in Ireland, access to personal data from the USA cannot be excluded. When you visit our website, Webflow collects the above data, which is secured under the following guarantees. The European Commission has adopted an adequacy decision pursuant to Art. 45(3) GDPR for the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework. Based on this decision, data transfers to organizations located in the U.S. that are certified under the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework are permitted, accordingly. Webflow is certified under the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework. For more information please contact our data protection officer.
5. Contact form

Through our website you have the possibility to contact us under "Contact us". In the course of contacting you and responding to your inquiry, we process the following personal data from you:
  • First and last name
  • Email address
  • Communication content, if applicable
If you contact us within the framework of an existing contractual relationship or contact us in advance for information about our range of services or our other services, the personal data you provide will be processed for the purpose of processing and responding to your contact request in accordance with Art. 6(1) s. 1 lit. b GDPR. Otherwise, for the protection of our legitimate interests pursuant to Art. 6(1) s. 1 lit. f GDPR to respond to customer/contact inquiries. We delete your personal data as soon as they are no longer required to achieve the purpose for which they were collected. In the context of contact inquiries, this is generally the case when the circumstances indicate that the specific matter has been conclusively processed.

6. Transfer of personal data

In the course of our processing of personal data, personal data may be transferred to or disclosed to other recipients. Recipients of this personal data may include, for example, service providers commissioned with IT tasks or providers of services and content that are integrated into a website. In such cases, we comply with the legal requirements and, in particular, conclude appropriate contracts or agreements that serve to protect your personal data with the recipients of your personal data.

7. Data deletion and retention periods

The personal data processed by us will be deleted in accordance with the legal requirements as soon as your consents permitted for processing are revoked or other permissions cease to apply (e.g., if the purpose of processing this data has ceased to apply or it is not required for the purpose). If the personal data are not deleted because they are required for other and legally permissible purposes, their processing will be limited to these purposes. That is, the personal data is blocked and not processed for other purposes. This applies, for example, to personal data that must be retained for reasons of commercial or tax law or whose storage is necessary for the assertion, exercise, or defense of legal claims or for the protection of the rights of another natural or legal person. As far as our privacy policy contains further information on the retention and deletion of personal data, thse have priority for the respective processing activities.

8. Your rights as a data subject

As a data subject, you are entitled to various rights under the GDPR, which arise in particular from Art. 15 to 21 GDPR. If you wish to exercise any of your rights, please contact us via the contact addresses provided above or our data protection officer.

8.1. Right of objection 

You have the right to object at any time, on grounds relating to your particular situation, to the processing of personal data concerning you which is carried out on the basis of Art. 6(1) lit. e or lit. f GDPR; this also applies to profiling based on these provisions. If the personal data concerning you is processed for the purpose of direct marketing, you have the right to object at any time to the processing of personal data concerning you for the purpose of such marketing; this also applies to profiling insofar as it is related to such direct marketing. If you object, we will no longer process your personal data unless we can demonstrate compelling legitimate grounds for the processing which override your interests, rights and freedoms, or the processing serves to assert, exercise or defend legal claims.
8.2. Right of access to your personal data

You have the right to request confirmation as to whether personal data in question is being processed and to information about this personal data, as well as further information and a copy of the personal data in accordance with the legal requirements.

8.3. Right to rectification

In accordance with the legal requirements, you have the right to request that the personal concerning you be completed or that incorrect personal data concerning you be corrected.

8.4. Right to erasure and restriction of processing

You have the right to demand that personal data concerning you be deleted immediately if one of the reasons provided for by law applies and insofar as the processing or storage is not necessary.

8.5. Restriction of processing

You have the right to demand that we restrict processing if one of the legal requirements is met.

8.6. Right to data portability

You have the right to receive personal data concerning you, which you have provided to us, in a structured, common and machine-readable format in accordance with the legal requirements, or to request that it be transferred to another controller.

8.7. Right of withdrawal for consents

You have the right to revoke any consent you have given at any time.

8.8. Complaint to supervisory authority

Without prejudice to any other administrative or judicial remedy, you have the right to lodge a complaint with a supervisory authority, in particular in the Member State of your habitual residence, place of work or the place of the alleged infringement, if you consider that the processing of personal data concerning you infringes the requirements of the GDPR.

9. Modification and update of the privacy policy

We adapt the privacy policy as soon as the changes in the data processing carried out by us make this necessary. We will inform you as soon as the changes require an act of cooperation on your part (e.g., consent) or other individual notification.

If we continue to develop our website and our offerings or if legal or regulatory requirements change, it may be necessary to amend this privacy policy. You can access the current privacy policy at any time here.