Seoul postpones decision on Google’s map info export request

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - South Korea postponed its decision to allow Google to export map information from the country. 

The South Korean government has postponed its decision on Google’s request to export map information from Korea to allow further review of the issues, the transport ministry announced Wednesday following a meeting of a pan-government review committee.

The consideration period before the final decision will be extended another 60 days until November 23. 

“After in-depth discussions about the effect of exporting map information on national security and the spatial information industry, it was agreed that the final decision must be considered carefully after additional discussions with Google,” the Transport Ministry said through a statement. 

The statement also said that Google had requested additional meetings as well to exchange ideas.

The date of the next meeting of the pan-government committee is undecided.

The pan-government committee consists of representatives from eight government agencies including the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and the Ministry of National Defense. The ultimate responsibility for approval is with the National Geographic Information Institute, under the purview of the transport ministry.

The request from Google in June was the second attempt at gaining approval for using Korea’s map information to expand Google Maps services here. Currently, Google Maps cannot provide detailed information to users within Korea beyond public transportation information because the detailed maps cannot be taken out of Korea to Google’s data centres abroad. The first attempt was in 2010.

Industry watchers had expected the government to deny Google’s request, as Google had staunchly refused to accept the government’s proposed compromises. The government said that it would allow Google to use maps that had blurred out sensitive areas that could pose a national security risk, but Google said that it could not accept restrictions on information available to users abroad. 

Another key contention that swayed public opinion against Google was that the company did not have a data centre in Korea. If a server were set up in Korea, critics say, Google would be able to service its Korean users with detailed maps used by other providers such as Naver and SK. 

Critics also charge that Google’s insistence on exporting the map data is fueled by a desire to avoid paying Korean corporate taxes. Under current law, taxes are not levied on foreign companies that do not have facilities here.

However, Google claimed that it would need to export map data regardless of having a physical server in Korea. 

“Google divides and saves its data in a cloud for security, service efficiency and safety purposes,” said Google engineer Kwon Beom-joon on the company’s official blog. According to Kwon, this means that data used by Google must be saved at multiple data centres around the world.

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