By Jonathan Cheng
SEOUL–Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. is challenging the South Korean government over restrictions to its
mapping services in the country, in a rare public disagreement over policy.
Google contends that 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infiltration from North Korea, are outdated and unfairly inhibit the company’s ability to offer the full range of its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 in South Korea.makeAd(‘4′,’300×250′,’mktsnews’,’article’,”,”);
But South Korea is one of only a small handful of countries where Google isn’t the No. 1 search engine, alongside
China and Russia, where it lags behind domestic players Baidu Inc. and Yandex NV, respectively. In South Korea, Naver,
owned by Naver Corp., is No. 1 in search and in mapping.
“The main point is national security,” says Kim Tong-il, an official at South Korea’sMinistry of Land,
Infrastructure and Transport, which oversees mapping policy. Mr. Kim says that Google’s domestic Korean rivals, Naver
and Kakao Corp., only use government-supplied maps that have already had sensitive installations blurred or camouflaged.
Google executives contend that the national security law in South Korea is being used to protect Naver and Kakao,
whose local-language mapping services are dominant in the country of about 50 million people.
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 a time when Ms. Park is touting startups
to offset the decline of the country’s heavy industrial giants in shipbuilding and petrochemicals. Ms. Park has made
deregulation a centerpiece of her economic policy, comparing excessive rules to “a malignant tumor” that must face the ”
“We’ve had enough,” says Kwon Bom-jun, the Google software engineer, who is spearheading the push.
At issue for Google is the South Korean law that blocks companies from exporting government-supplied map data,
which it says it must do to offer features like 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
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 over blocking politically-sensitive search items and a hacking incident.
Google said China hasn’t blocked features of Google Maps since 2008, although some phones tested in Beijing on
Tuesday could not access the service’s website or app.
Google says that it can offer a wider range of features in North Korea than in South Korea, including driving
directions from the North’s capital in Pyongyang to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which takes about
one hour and eight minutes without traffic.
A Google Maps search for a driving route between the South’s capital in Seoul and its second-biggest city, Busan,
turns up an error message: “No routes found.”
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
Government officials say that, by not bringing its services into compliance with its laws, Google would be leaving
the country’s power plants, military installations and government facilities exposed to potential danger.
Google would win an export license if it uses only the blurred-out version, even for overseas users, government
“Google already blurs out secure information for Google Korea,” says Mr. 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.”
Google refuses, pointing to the company’s 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 Mr. Kwon, the Google software engineer, in an interview. “Once
we start to unite the features, that will make chaos for other countries, too.”
For its bare-bones Google Maps service, the company uses third-party servers in South Korea, but argues that its
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,” Mr.
Min Sun Lee in Seoul and Eva Dou in Beijing contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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