Google asks South Korea to rethink its strict policies on providing map data

Google wants the South Korean government to ease laws on map data that have curtailed the number of features Google Maps can offer there. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company talked to officials before a closed-door government meeting today.

Chaired by President Park Guen-Hye, the meeting will focus on proposed changes to current laws that will allow pilot programs for drones and driverless cars. Regulations may also be lifted on the Internet of Things, 3D printing, solar power modules, and other technology that are seen are potential growth drivers for the startup industry, which the government wants to turn into one of the top in the world.

Limitations on the exportation of map data created by the South Korean government to other countries means that Google Maps currently lacks many of the functions—such as 3D maps, driving and walking directions, and indoor maps—available to users elsewhere.

Google had no comment.

The regulations are in place because the government believes making map data available overseas increases its vulnerability to attacks by other countries, especially North Korea. South Korea approves map data exports only if certain satellite images are edited or obscured (for example, blurring army bases or disguising them as forests), even though they are visible for users of Google Maps, Apple Maps, and similar services in other places.

Ironically, the Google says the restrictions mean that Google Maps actually has more features in North Korea, including driving directions, than in South Korea.

The South Korean government promised to make English-language digital maps available for companies in 2013, but Google said at the time that the new data did not have enough information to ensure that it can provide accurate directions.

The WSJ reports that Google told government officials that the current restrictions give an unfair advantage to local competitors. Google Maps competes with maps from Naver and Daum, two of South Korea’s leading Internet companies.

The law makes expanding into South Korea difficult for any foreign tech company that relies on location-based services, but also presents complications for local companies like Hyundai Motor.

According to Joongang Daily (link via Google Translate), the automaker sells its Sonata sedan with built-in Android Auto in 30 markets, but not in South Korea because the in-car operating system needs full access to Google Maps’ features.