Request by Google for more map data denied

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Request by Google for more map data denied

The South Korean government Friday denied Google greater access to the country’s map data, citing national security issues.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that the National Geographic Information Institute (NGII) - along with seven government branches - agreed Friday not to allow better access. They delayed a decision for three months in August and announced it five days prior to the deadline.

The government cited the unique situation of South Korea still being technically at war with North Korea and argued that allowing Google the information could compromise national security, including information on classified military facilities.

“We believe allowing Google to have map data and store it overseas might worsen national security,” said Choi Byung-nam, CEO of the NGII. “We asked Google to blur some of the key facilities, but Google said they are not able to do that since they prioritize providing the best quality services to their users. They said they have their principles.”

Google requested the specific map data to store at their data centers overseas last June. The IT firm said it planned to connect the data with its own Google Earth satellite data. The Korean government expressed concerns since classified facilities might be shown on Google’s maps.

“I am not an expert on national security issues, but experts are saying that just having the satellite images of key facilities available online will become a threat to national security,” Choi added.

Google Korea expressed disappointment.

“We are disappointed by this decision,” Google Korea said in a statement. “We have always taken security concerns very seriously and will continue to provide useful map services in compliance with Korea’s current map data export regulation. We are encouraged by the government’s commitment to review its policies around the technologies, and we remain hopeful that we will be able to provide people in Korea with access to the full suite of Google Maps services in the future.”

Currently, Naver and Daum are top two most widely used map providers in Korea. Google provides basic map information in the country by receiving small amount of data from SK Telecom. Due to that, Google’s maps don’t have specific details such as the names of roads and small alleys in Korea, let alone real-time transportation information.

Local IT companies’ maps such as those provided by Naver and Kakao have erased images of key facilities such as the Blue House from their satellite map images.

“We don’t plan to discriminate against any local or foreign companies in terms of having access to the map information and we plan to consider revising some of the regulations to vitalize newly growing technologies such as autonomous vehicles and IoT,” Choi said. “We are also open to reconsidering the decision we made if Google requests us to take another look.”

This wasn’t the first time that the Korean government denied the request.

In 2010, the government reviewed the same request but didn’t approve it citing national security. The government came up with a compromise saying that Google can either open a data center in Korea or erase the sites of national security importance, such as military bases. Google, however, refused to do so.

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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