Date
23 May 2017
South Korea’s presidential Blue House is shown clearly on Google Maps (Global) but appears to be blurred out on Google Maps (South Korea) and camouflaged on the domestic Naver Map service.  Photos:  Source: Google, Naver
South Korea’s presidential Blue House is shown clearly on Google Maps (Global) but appears to be blurred out on Google Maps (South Korea) and camouflaged on the domestic Naver Map service. Photos: Source: Google, Naver

Google tangles with South Korea over map services curbs

Google is taking on the South Korean government over restrictions to its mapping services in the country, which it says make some maps less reliable than those in North Korea.

Google says South Korea’s national security laws, which were designed to protect the country against infiltration from North Korea, are outdated and unfairly inhibit the company’s ability to offer the full range of its Google Map services, the Wall Street Journal reports..

South Korean search giant Naver Corp. is the country’s leader in search and mapping.

“The main point is national security,” said Kim Tong-il, an official in South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which oversees mapping policy.

Kim said Google’s domestic Korean rivals, Naver and Kakao Corp., only use government-supplied maps that already have had sensitive installations blurred or camouflaged.

Google representatives said national-security laws in South Korea unfairly benefit local competitors in the country of about 50 million people.

The government maintains that national security is the laws’ sole purpose.

US-based Google has been raising concerns with officials ahead of a closed-door meeting on Wednesday of top South Korean officials to discuss deregulation and innovation, chaired by President Park Geun-hye.

Google argues that South Korea’s laws hamper innovation in the country at the same time Park is touting startups to offset the decline of the country’s industrial giants in shipbuilding and petrochemicals.

Park has made deregulation a centerpiece of her economic policy, comparing excessive rules to “a malignant tumor” that must face the “guillotine.”

At issue for Google is a law that blocks companies from exporting government-supplied map data, which the company says it must do to offer features such as driving directions, public transit information and satellite maps.

Google says it has been requesting a license from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport since 2008, without success.

“We’ve had enough,” said Kwon Bom-jun, the Google software engineer who is leading the push.

Google says that it has had better luck in China, despite pulling the plug on its mainland Chinese search product in 2010 amid a tussle with Beijing about politically sensitive search items.

Google initially launched a bare-bones version of its Maps service in South Korea in 2008, with plans to roll out a wider array of services, including real-time traffic information, 3-D maps and driving directions.

That never happened as the Seoul government, citing national security, blocked Google’s efforts to export map data to data centers outside South Korea.

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