Thursday, June 23, 2011

Google and the New Rules for Online Map Services in China

In my previous post "Google Maps and Baidu Map in China" I glossed over the details about the newly required license for online map services in China.  Some readers have had questions so I'll provide some more information.

The requirement for a license was announced last year.  Google missed filing an application before one deadline on March 31 of this year.  After March 31, any company operating without a license would be "exposed" but could continue to operate.  At that point Google was reportedly still in discussions with the Chinese government.  However, July 1 marks a deadline where any company operating online maps in China without a license could be prosecuted.  Google has recently submitted its application.  While it was clear since last year that a license would be required, it was only earlier this month (at least publicly) that it was announced by Chinese authorities that a joint venture with a Chinese company would be required for foreign companies to operate online map services in China.  Google has reportedly attempted to meet this requirement by proposing to operate the service "through Beijing Guxiang Information Technology Co., a joint venture by Google and".

A post at (here) highlights some of the other requirements:
  • 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
Loretta Chao at the Wall Street Journal in an article (here) shares another requirement:
"...companies must demonstrate that they have systems in place to ensure that their maps, including disputed territories, are labeled in accordance with Chinese rules and that sensitive information like military addresses is removed."
There has still been no public announcement whether a license has been approved for Google Maps.

On another note... yes, I'm aware this impacts other foreign companies as well.  For example, both Nokia and Microsoft have also formed joint ventures for their online map services.  Nokia has received its license while Microsoft is still awaiting approval.  However, I still believe it is possible that the new rules could have been at least partially motivated by concern over Google's (and possibly other foreign companies') strength in maps.  There may have been a desire to either make life difficult for foreign companies such as Google or ensure that local entities would benefit from any success.  Given Google's recent struggles in China, I found it curious that there would be increased requirements specifically in an area where I saw signs that Google had a significant advantage.  The new rules may not only be about "protecting China's national security" unless that phrase is very broadly interpretted.

Again, regardless of the motivations behind the new requirements, that Google is apparently agreeing to them is telling.  And for a variety of reasons I think it's the right choice for Google.

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