China: Google has applied for the license to continue its online mapping operations in China, the country’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping said. While Google already failed once in obtaining a proper mapping license from the Chinese government last year, this time it seems to be implementing a more “legal” strategy in the Chinese context.
Chinese authorities have announced earlier this month that foreign companies can only apply for a mapping license through their joint ventures with local Chinese companies. Google has applied for the mapping license through its joint venture within China, Guxiang Information Technology.
In addition to the newly announced rule, China set out a series of new criteria for online mapping service providers last year to prevent security issues and ensure mapping accuracy. These rules include:
– The service provider must boast proper mapping qualifications.
– The service provider must store all its mapping data on servers located within Mainland China.
– The service provider must be able to effectively regulate location uploading and marking by its users.
– The service provider must have no record of security leaks within the past three years.
When these criteria were released last year, experts were concerned the launch of the new rules may make it more difficult for Google Maps to obtain governmental approval, since almost every rule seems to be hitting it hard. For instance, not all of the Google Maps servers are located in China, and Google Maps allows its users to mark the maps – China’s military sites and classified areas used to appear on Google’s satellite maps as a result of free marking.
It is so far not clear whether or how Google will revise its mapping product to meet China’s official requirements to make the license application process more convenient for itself this time around.
In recent months, Google Maps has lost some of its key features and, as a result, has become less and less useful for many users in China. For example, the function of providing detailed Location A to Location B transportation information seems to have been disabled, and geographical details in some Chinese provinces are not shown properly. Users do not know whether or not the changes in Google Maps’ functions are related to the licensing issue.
In addition to facing licensing troubles with its mapping service, Google is also encountering other roadblocks as it tries to expand in the Chinese market. Several of Google’s most popular products, including Youtube and Blogger, are not accessible in China, while connections to Gchat are spotty at best. Web sites that contain content deemed sensitive by the CCP are also blocked, although the sites appear on Google’s search page. In addition, many users also find it hard to access Gmail from time to time, and in a recent blog post, Google’s engineering director for its security team Eric Grosse even accused China of hijacking the Gmail accounts of hundreds of users – including senior US government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries, military personnel and journalists.