China approves 18 domestic firms for online mapping

China approves 18 domestic firms for online mapping

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China: 18 domestic companies out of about 30 applicants have been selected to provide Internet mapping services in China, with a number of applications from foreign vendors still being considered. The list of approved providers is also expected to be announced soon, according to the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), says a report published in China Daily.

The move is expected to pose challenges for the operation of foreign Internet companies such as Google in China. “According to China’s Surveying and Mapping Law, foreign firms are not allowed to provide surveying and mapping services. Their activities in China must be under joint ventures or in partnership with domestic firms,” the SBSM said.

To avoid state secrets being disclosed and uncertified maps published online, the SBSM launched a regulation last month requiring all companies providing online map and location services in China to apply for approval. The regulation, which took effect this month, gives the authorities the right to shut down providers that fail to get a license by the end of this year.

A Wall Street Journal report said last week that Google has applied for such a license, citing anonymous official sources. Nokia China is also seeking a license for its Ovi Map service in China. Microsoft, which runs its Bing Maps service through a domestic joint venture in China, did not want to comment.

“Among all the foreign vendors, Google may have some trouble getting a license because currently all its servers that provide map services are outside China,” said Ren Yanghui, an analyst of research firm Analysys International.

According to the latest regulation, qualified online map service providers are required to keep servers storing map data inside the country and must have no record of information leakage in any form in the past three years. Although Google moved its Chinese online search services to Hong Kong in March, the US-based search engine is still providing its Google Maps service on the Chinese mainland via Google.cn, a domestic website run by Google’s domestic joint venture.

Guan Dai, a senior analyst at research firm In-Stat China, said Google may still have a good chance of getting its map services approved, as its decision to move its search services to Hong Kong has raised concern from the foreign business community.

The total revenue of China’s online map market raised from 245 million yuan (USD 36 million) in 2008 to 330 million yuan last year, figures from Analysys International showed. Baidu, DDMap and Google are the major online map providers in China, which altogether account for more than half of the market share. Baidu said that the SBSM has yet to approve its Internet map service.

Source: China Daily