Pop-up ads in Google Maps? That shouldn’t be happening, says Google

The Google Maps logo on an iPhone screen
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There’s no denying Google Maps is a fantastic service, even if you prefer to use Apple Maps or Waze. It does run ads, which isn’t ideal, but it usually takes the form of sponsored or promoted locations on the map interface. And in my experience you occasionally find one that is genuinely quite interesting — which is how I ended up in an Edinburgh café with 3 chihuahuas on my lap. Ask me about that story if we ever meet in person.

What Google Maps doesn’t do is bombard you with ads while you’re driving — because that's an absolutely horrible idea. It would stop you being able to see where you’re going and potentially prove to be a dangerous distraction. Google-owned Waze does do this with location-based advertising, but those ads are only supposed to flash up when your car is stationary.

I bring this up because it was recently reported that Google Maps may have started adding ads to your drive. Anthony Higman on X claimed that an ad for Royal Farms appeared as they were driving by, despite the fact they claim to have never put in anything into the search bar related to gas or food. Which, if you didn’t know about this, could be quite infuriating to suddenly see.

But according to Google these Promoted Pins in Navigation, as they’re officially known, are not actually new. According to Google’s AdLiaison account these ads are designed to “let people see relevant ads for businesses like gas stations, restaurants, and stores along their route.” But to “avoid driver distraction, these ads do not pop up, expand only if they’re tapped on, and disappear quickly after a short time.”

Essentially these ads do exist, but are supposed to be delivered in a way that isn’t going to take your attention off the road. However Higman claims that he didn’t tap anything on screen, and was simply driving when the ad for Royal Farm did pop up on screen — taking around 45-60 seconds to vanish. Apparently this is “not expected behavior”, and probably shouldn’t have happened this way.

I've been using Google Maps for years, and across multiple countries, and Promoted Pins have never shown up in navigation this way.

The conspiratorially minded might have their own theories as to why this happened, but I’m willing to take Google’s word for it for now. After all, I've been using Google Maps for years, and across multiple countries, and Promoted Pins have never shown up in navigation this way.

While I’m sure Google would love to be able to bombard Maps users with as many ads as it can get away with, I’m sure Hanlon’s Razor probably applies in this situation. Especially since blocking key parts of the navigation interface when the car is moving is a very quick way to drive people onto a rival platform. I’m still not sure how Waze has gotten away with it for so long.

So you probably don’t need to worry about Google Maps interrupting your navigation with an ad for whatever business or gas station is coming up soon. But if one of these ads does pop up, make sure not to panic and only try to dismiss it if it’s safe to do so. It should vanish by itself pretty quickly. Let’s just hope that Google can fix whatever issue is causing it, and soon.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.