Now the government of South Korean President Park Geun-hye is moving to ease some of the Internet regulations that previous administrations put in place. Park wants to encourage creativity in the South Korean high-technology industry, which is very good at developing hardware like smartphones and television sets but not as good at exporting software and services. Critics say the different rules that South Korean companies have to play by at home and abroad limit their ability to think in a worldly fashion.
Last month, the government promised to ease the restrictions on online mapping services. The National Geographic Information Institute, part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, said it would make an official English-language digital map available to Internet companies, beginning this month for companies based in South Korea. The ministry said it was changing its policy to help foreign Internet companies and to clear up uncertainties over South Korean place names.
The move comes at the same time as a new flare-up in a longstanding dispute over a group of islets between South Korea and Japan that are known variously as the Dokdo in South Korea, the Takeshima in Japan and the Liancourt Rocks in some other places. (The islands are either in the Sea of Japan or the East Sea, which is another naming dispute.) For Google and other foreign companies, there is a hitch. They will be permitted to use the map as of next year, on a case-by-case basis. Now, Google adapts its English-language maps of South Korea from the government’s Korean-language maps. Google is permitted to provide directions using public transit systems like the Seoul subway, because train and bus routes and schedules are available through public records.
However, Google says other sophisticated map enhancements, like driving directions, traffic information, three-dimensional modeling of cities and indoor floor plans of airports and shopping centers, require the company to process the data at its servers outside South Korea. This would constitute an export of the map data, which has been forbidden until now.
Google says the policy change announced by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport does not go far enough. That is because the scale of the new official, English-language map is limited to 1:25,000, which the company says is insufficient to provide details that Google Maps users take for granted elsewhere.
“Maps at the lower resolution don’t have accurate enough information to guide people and cars through intersections, sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian overpasses and many points of interest,” the company said in a statement.
Google maintains that the rules are unfair because domestic Internet companies like Naver are able to provide online navigation and other mapping services, even to users outside the country. That is because Naver’s servers are housed in South Korea. For many foreign visitors, though, Naver’s maps are of limited use, because they are available only in Korean.
“We just think any services should be carried out within the framework of the law,” Google said. “The same laws should apply to all providers of Web map services, domestic or foreign.”