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Decision on Google’s map request due Friday

Company’s stance remains unchanged, but Trump’s election win may sway decision

The Korean government is set to decide Friday whether it will allow Google to put a detailed map of the country on the company’s global servers.

The decision, delayed by the government from an initial August deadline, comes aid trade uncertainties following Donald Trump’s election as the next US president. 

It will be the first time a joint government committee provides a decision on whether detailed cartographic information supplied by the government can be exported by the foreign firm.

Ahead of the decision Friday, there were reports that the decision committee -- led by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and including other agencies such as the foreign affairs, unification, defense, administration, and trade ministries -- was softening its stance out of fear that President-elect Trump could use a negative decision as leverage against Korea in trade relations.

However, individual lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have publicly stated their opposition to the possibility. 

Rep. Kim Sung-tae of the ruling Saenuri Party made strong objections against providing Google with sensitive data without a properly enforceable “privacy shield.” 

The third-largest People’s Party signed a joint statement urging against giving Google “preferential treatment” after it “provided false information” by stating that all other countries had allowed their maps to be exported, with no mention of specific security exceptions for countries like China and Israel.

Lawmakers Choi Kyung-hwan (left) and Shin Yong-hyun of the People's Party speak to press Thursday, opposing permitting Google take Korea's maps abroad. (Yonhap)
Lawmakers Choi Kyung-hwan (left) and Shin Yong-hyun of the People's Party speak to press Thursday, opposing permitting Google take Korea's maps abroad. (Yonhap)

The search engine asked the Korean government for the map information in June in order to provide full access to its Google Maps services here. 

However, the government was wary of Google’s request to store the map on its servers overseas due to concerns about the exposure of security facilities when the detailed 1:5000-ratio map is used in conjunction with Google’s satellite service Google Earth. 

The fact that Google does not have a server here, exempting it from local taxes, also turned public opinion against the company, as well as worries about the competition Google would raise against Korean mapping services.

Currently, the leading map service providers are Korean companies such as SK Telecom, Naver, and Kakao.

Since the initial August deadline for the decision, Google has continued to refuse to accept the Korean government’s conditions for blurring out information about sensitive facilities. But the election of  Trump, who had vowed to pursue protectionist trade policies during his presidential campaign, has raised new questions about the impact of the Korean government’s decision on bilateral trade relations.

Even before the election, the US Trade Representative had taken note of the conflict in its 2016 National Trade Estimate Report, saying that while the US was “sensitive” to national security issues in Korea and that it would “continue to consult with Korea on opening (the mapping) market to participation by foreign suppliers.“ 

Representatives from the US Trade Representative had also met with authorities here to discuss the issue in a closed-door meeting. 

The final decision is expected to be reached by the government committee in a meeting Friday morning.  

By Won Ho-jung (