Bing Maps

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Bing logo (2013).svg

Bing Maps (previously Microsoft Virtual Earth) is an online cartographic platform operated under the Bing division of Microsoft. The platform includes map tiles, map embedding APIs, routing, and so on. It makes use of proprietary datasets, often licensed from third party geodata providers, and its use is therefore bound by copyright restrictions... However:

Bing Maps are investigating working with OpenStreetMap in various ways.

Bing Aerial Imagery

Bing imagery in Potlatch 2, available in the 'Background' drop-down settings. By default 'dim' is ticked, causing paler colours in the imagery

In November 2010 it was announced ([1], [2]) that Bing has granted the right to trace from their aerial imagery for the purpose of contributing content to OpenStreetMap. Please note the only legal use of Bing maps is to use the aerial imagery layer as background to do your own OSM drawing (also known as "tracing"). It is not legal to use any other information from Bing maps (like street names, street view etc.).

For more information see Bing license.pdf.

Note. In May 2018 Microsoft updated their general licence terms and included specific clauses relating to OpenStreetMap. Specifically in section 2:

  • 2. What rights do I have? The rights that you have under this agreement are limited solely to aerial imagery use in a non-commercial online editor application of OpenStreetMap maps (an "Application"). We require you use access credentials to use the service and require use of transaction tracking and/or session tracking methods for all uses of the service, as described in the applicable SDKs.
  • Further, we grant you the limited right to use Street Side imagery provided by the StreetSide API in read-only format solely as an additional source of corroborating ground truth within OpenStreetMap editing environments. You may not use the StreetSide API to extract StreetSide imagery or for any other use.

Some clarification of these terms may be needed (for instance what exactly is meant by a non-commercial online OSM editor). For now it is best to assume the following:

  • Bing Imagery continues to be usable in typical mainstream OSM editors (iD, Potlatch2 and JOSM) and in mobile editors which retain an internet connection.
  • Active caching of imagery for offline use is not allowed
  • Streetside imagery can be used to corroborate surveys, but not for extraction of POIs de novo.
  • Bird's-eye imagery is NOT available for OSM

See the German Forum topic for further discussion (automatic english translation)

How to use in the editors

  • Most used editors (sorted alphabetically):
    • iD – Opens with bing by default, but you can select 'Bing aerial imagery' in the layer picker icon on the right
    • JOSM – In the 'Imagery' menu, select 'Bing'
    • Potlatch 2 – Opens with bing by default, but you can select 'Bing' in the 'Background' drop-down. There you can also switch off the brightening.
  • Other editors:
    • Merkaartor – Create a new layer via the menu Create → Add new Image layer, and then change the image layer's source to Bing via the menu Layer → Map → Plugins → Bing (v0.17 and later).
    • Potlatch 1not available, and probably won't ever be.

Source tag

Use source=Bing as tag on the changeset rather than on each modified object. (This is OSM policy, not a Bing requirement.) Some editors may place source tags in the changeset automatically (when you have used the imagery while creating/modifying or deleting data). Changesets and their tags are linked from each version of any OSM object, while looking at its history. This allows sourcing the deletion (something not possible when tagging only core OSM objects).

Coverage and age

The coverage of high-resolution imagery can be assessed using this tool. You have to zoom in to zoom level 14 or more to discover high resolution tiles, which will then result in green and red tiles indicating availability of imagery being rendered in all zoom levels. See discussion.

The age of the images can be viewed using the Bing imagery analyzer for OSM (link). By changing the zoom you can view the age of images taken at each zoom level. See discussion. Currently, Bing imagery available to OSM editing is similar age as displayed on their free-as-in-beer map offering.

See also Bing Maps/Coverage to find out and help document areas of available coverage.


Be aware that at lower zooms, Bing's imagery may be misaligned. I.e., alignment is not consistent across zooms; at one zoom, you'll be aligned, but another, you'll be misaligned. This is different than other image sources, including Yahoo, which if misaligned tend to be consistently misaligned irrespective the zoom you're using. This is true of various places worldwide.

Areas with height differences (mountains, hills, bridges) seem more prone to this, which suggests that imagery was not always taken at a precise 90 degree angle (Fixed imagery is available as Bird's Eye view in Bing's map but it is not allowed to use as source in OSM). As a result, objects at the same height (ground level in a flat area) may be quite precise while objects which are higher (embankments, bridges, buildings) or lower (cuttings) may be slightly off.

Use GPS tracks, other OSM data you know is aligned, or other aligned imagery (if available) to align the imagery in a local area.

Precision-related discussions

2012 censorship of military areas in Germany

In the end of January 2012, Bing blurred many military bases in Germany after being asked by the German government to do so. The polygons of these areas were given to Microsoft by the German government. It is suspected that these polygons could have been exported from OpenStreetMap, since several blurred areas are perfectly matched to landuse=military polygon.

The details are collected on Bing/2012 Germany Military Blurring

Usage in this wiki

Bing aerial imagery cannot be published under open licenses, so please mark the legal situation by using these templates on the image page:

See this discussion for details.

See also

External links