Can Google take out South Korean map data overseas?

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Global Map with background decorated in binary code 0 and 1 [image: Pixabay]
This is my first English news article. It’s about global online map services in South Korea and Google’s action regarding a critical issue.

Can Google take out South Korean map data overseas?
by Mincheol Im

Google wants to take the South Korean government-supplied map data overseas, to serve their Google Maps. They have asked the government for permission to use the data outside South Korean territory. Google and some people argue that the exporting the data is necessary for the public interest and benefits people and businesses in South Korea. The government and some other people oppose the data export, citing concerns related to public safety and national security. The government need to decide whether to grant Google within two months, by November.

In June, Google asked the National Geographic Information Institute (NGII), a subsidiary of Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT), for permission to use South Korean map data in their global data centers in several countries, except South Korea.

“It’s possible to give Google permission to use the map data overseas, if they blur our sensitive and military facilities on the aerial photographs and satellite map images they already use,” said Seungwon Shin, a member of Geospatial Imagery and Photogrammetry Department at NGII. “But if not, by comparing Google’s the uncensored images to our already blurred map data, our sensitive points could be easily discovered.”

Commercial Intent

However, Lois Kim, Google’s spokesperson, said her company can’t match their digital map service to each countries’ policy. “Google saves data in several locations for security and stability like other internet companies. Google Maps is a global service. Hosting another version only for South Korea isn’t simple, will not perform well, and could make it impossible to provide new global features to South Korean users,” she emphasized.

“Google is distorting the facts by arguing that startups in South Korea can’t enter the global market because exporting the data is prohibited,” said Yeongchan Yoon, the vice president of Naver, Google’s No. 1 local competitor, at a discussion meeting on this issue in last month. “South Korean companies are expanding and positioning well in overseas market,” He added.

But some mobile app and web service developers in South Korea think the government should give Google permission to use local map data. They believe it will enable them to enter the global market by incorporating interoperatibility into their services or products. Millenials in South Korea think so, too. These young and tech-savvy people hope by giving Google permission, they will get more choices for convenient, useful, interesting content or services.

Concerning about national security

The controversy continues. According to a recent survey from the Korea Press Foundation (KPF), 41.9% of people agree with exporting the data overseas, with the main reason being “prohibition is meaningless since there is already other map data that extensively covers South Korea territory.” Conversely, 44.8% of people disagree with exporting data, mainly due to “concerns about national security related to the situation of the devided nation, South and North Korea.”

When someone asks for permission to use map data overseas, the government must decide whether to grant permission within 60 days, by law. However, in August, the government extended the discussion period for another 60 days, until November. It seems the government acknowledges that the decision will affect everyone operating businesses, creating content, and developing services locally with the data.

This was written in November 2016. The South Korean government was scheduled to decide whether to grant permission for Google to export map data overseas within two months, and the deadline was approaching. If you have any questions about this issue, please contact me by email(m at

Added on June 9th, 2024: The South Korean government decided not to grant Google permission to use the map data in November, 2016. Google is operating its map service incompletely, and Naver is still the No. 1 competitor of Google in Korea.

Originally posted on 16th November, 2016. Migrated here and published on April 2nd, 2017. Edited on December 24th, 2018. Re-edited on June 9th, 2024.