Google says South Korea laws inhibit Google Map services
Google parent Alphabet is challenging South Korea’s government over restrictions to its mapping services in the country, which renders some maps less informative than those for North Korea, The WSJ reports.
Google claims South Korea’s national security laws, which were designed to protect the country against infiltration from North Korea, are outdated and restrict the company’s ability to provide the full range of its Google Map services in South Korea.
South Korea is one of the few countries where Google is not the no. 1 search engine, alongside China and Russia. In South Korea, Naver is search and mapping market leader. “The main point is national security,” said Kim Tong-il, an official at South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which oversees mapping policy.
According to Kim, Google’s domestic Korean rivals, Naver and Kakao, only use maps provided by the government. These maps already have sensitive installations blurred or camouflaged. Google representatives claim that the national-security laws in South Korea unfairly benefit local competitors in the country. The government however says national security is the laws’ only purpose.
Google has tackled the issue with officials ahead of a closed-door meeting on 18 May. The meeting brought together top South Korean officials to discuss deregulation and innovation, chaired by President Park Geun-hye. Google argues that South Korean laws are an obstacle to innovation in the country. The South Korean law impedes 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 unsuccessfully requesting a license from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport ever since 2008.
Google initially introduced a bare-bones version of its Maps service in South Korea in 2008, and planned to roll out a wider array of services, including real-time traffic information, 3-D maps and driving directions. That was not possible, as the Seoul government, citing national security, blocked Google’s map data export to data centers outside South Korea.
According to government officials, by not bringing the company’s services into compliance with South Korea’s laws, Google would be leaving the country’s power plants, military installations and government facilities exposed to potential danger. Government officials also said that Google would win an export license if it used only the blurred-out version, even for overseas users. “Google already blurs out secure information for Google Korea,” said Kim, who is a deputy director at the South Korean ministry’s National Geographic Information Institute. “We are asking Google to do the same overseas”, he added.
Google refuses to do so, pointing to its policy on disputed territories in East Asia, where it labels the islands one way in one country, and another way in the other country. “This is why we have separate domain services,” says Kwon, a Google software engineer, in an interview. “Once we start to unite the features, that will make chaos for other countries, too”, he added.
For its bare-bones Google Maps service, the company uses third-party servers in South Korea, but claims that other services are structured in a way that makes them reliant on Google data centers situated around the world. “No matter how many servers we have in Korea, we can’t have all of our Google Maps services handled there”, Kwon also said.