Paradoxes of Internet Regulation–Korea Edition

by on October 11, 2012 at 3:37 am in Political Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

Google’s maps of Seoul are peculiar, they offer public transit directions but not driving directions. Turns out that this is due to Korean law (the Measurement Act) which prohibits the export of Korean map data without obtaining government approval. (The distinction appears to be that driving directions are ”new” maps and thus unapproved while transit directions are fixed and can be approved in advance of generation.)

Local versions of Google satellite imagery are also much lower resolution in South Korea due to military restrictions. Google has argued that by satisfying the law within a country it satistifes that country’s law, a policy rule on Google’s part that I applaud, but this policy does lead to the paradox that the images of South Korea available in South Korea are not as high resolution as those available in North Korea!

More generally, however, the bigger Google gets the more countries it has a physical presence in (servers, sales staff and support etc.) and thus the more leverage individual countries, especially large countries, will have to degrade the services that Google offers not just within-country but to the world.

DocMerlin October 11, 2012 at 4:07 am

Yet another reason why small still has a chance.

Kevin October 11, 2012 at 6:04 am

Ha! I am actually leaving S Korea right now after a few days in the country and noticed the same issue with Google Maps on my iPhone! Now it makes sense!

anonymous1 October 11, 2012 at 6:40 am

“Google has argued that by satisfying the law within a country it satistifes that country’s law”

Please explain how this is not a tautology. Thanks.

Raphfrk October 11, 2012 at 6:46 am

If a country has laws which have international scope, then Google wouldn’t obey them outside the country.

The basically say that within the country they will obey the laws, but not when outside the country (presumably, because they have to obey a different set of laws).

anon October 11, 2012 at 6:54 am

the images of South Korea available in South Korea are not as high resolution as those available in North Korea!

In large part because the prison camp known as North Korea does not have to worry about a military first strike from its neighbors, while South Korea does worry about that…..

rpl October 11, 2012 at 7:49 am

Read it again, more slowly this time. “The images of South Korea available in South Korea are not as high resolution as those [images of South Korea] available in North Korea.” In other words, the high-resolution images are available to precisely the people most likely to be up to no good, while they are unavailable to the people most likely to be using them for legitimate purposes.

anon October 11, 2012 at 7:57 am

Read it again, more slowly this time.
Oh, thank you.

the high-resolution images are available to precisely the people most likely to be up to no good

Unless you’re a spy from NK in SK. But then reading S L O W LY I bet there are no concerns about NK spies in SK. Nope, nothing to see here, move along….

YMMV

rpl October 11, 2012 at 8:55 am

Read it again, more slowly this time. Oh, thank you.

My apologies. It sounded like you had interpreted the quote as saying that the imagery of NK available in NK was better than the imagery of SK available in SK.

As for the North Korean spies, if they can’t figure out how to get their hands on the high-resolution imagery that is available in their home country (and indeed the rest of the world), whether by tunneling a connection or downloading it to a portable device before leaving North Korea, then perhaps North Korea isn’t so dangerous as people make it out to be. The whole point of that sentence is that the spies probably can get hold of that imagery, the ban in South Korea itself notwithstanding.

prior_approval October 11, 2012 at 8:14 am

‘will have to degrade the services that Google offers not just within-country but to the world’

Well, if collecting data to sell to advertisers is the service that Google offers (certainly its main one according to SEC required documentation – Google remains a profit driven, publicly traded corporation), it is true that various regulations, such as privacy regulations in the EU, will certainly degrade its services from the perspective of the people that purchase them.

A large number of its users have this strange illusion that Google considers them customers, with services offered for free. Google knows precisely who its customers are – it sends them bills, after all.

Slocum October 11, 2012 at 8:18 am

More generally, however, the bigger Google gets the more countries it has a physical presence in (servers, sales staff and support etc.) and thus the more leverage individual countries, especially large countries, will have to degrade the services that Google offers not just within-country but to the world.

But that cuts both ways, doesn’t it? The more Google’s services are considered essential by a country’s citizens, the more leverage Google gains from the potential threat of shutting down and pulling out if a country’s demands are unreasonable. What happened with Google in China seems particularly relevant. Google ultimately refused to enforce Chinese censorship in China — but the idea of Google censoring material that the Chinese censors found objectionable worldwide was certainly not even on the table.

tom October 11, 2012 at 8:49 am

“More generally, however, the bigger Google gets the more countries it has a physical presence in (servers, sales staff and support etc.) and thus the more leverage individual countries, especially large countries, will have to degrade the services that Google offers not just within-country but to the world.”

Isn’t it the opposite? The bigger and more spread out google gets the less leverage any one individual country has as the impact of losing those servers/info is a much smaller piece of the pie.

pjt October 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

Google has argued that by satisfying the law within a country it satistifes that country’s law, a policy rule on Google’s part that I applaud, but this policy does lead to the paradox that the images of South Korea available in South Korea are not as high resolution as those available in North Korea!

I don’t see any paradox there – Google has to take South Korean law into account because it operates in South Korea, but it has no presence in North Korea so North Korean laws apply to no part of Google, and it’s perfectly OK to have hi-res images of NK territory.

North Korea could change this by welcoming Google to the country (so that it also has a meaningful business there) but that may take a while.

Alvin October 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

Very poorly worded blog post on an otherwise important topic. For example “By satisfying the law within a country it satisfies that country’s law.” Am I reading that correctly? Big deal. The sentence is a tautology.

And the last sentence about leverage, a comma or period would’ve helped to understand it. I have no clue – based on your sentence -whether Google is gaining more leverage by being in more countries or not?

Joe Smith October 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

“For example “By satisfying the law within a country it satisfies that country’s law.” … The sentence is a tautology.”

No, it is not a tautology. The United States is a big advocate of extra territorial application of its laws. As other commenters have pointed out, an expansive reading of the South Korean law would prohibit Google from offering high resolution images of South Korea to American users in America.

Alvin October 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm

So is he trying to say, for example, “by satisfying the law within a country it satisfies the laws of other countries”? (I satisfy law regarding x in Country A, therefore I satisfy the laws regarding x also in Countries B, C,…N.”

But it sounded like he was saying “by satisfying the law within the Unitied States it satisfies the United State’s law.”

Can you translate his last sentence to me?

Joe Smith October 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm

“But it sounded like he was saying “by satisfying the law within the Unitied States it satisfies the United State’s law.”

Can you translate his last sentence to me?”

Another way of saying it would be: “US law only applies in the US. South Korean law only applies in South Korea.” That is the translation.

Sean P. October 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm

This is only confusing because everyone is trying to read the sentence outside of the context of the post.

Google designs the maps of each country to comply with the map-related laws of that country. By doing this, Google believes that it is complying with those laws. The result is that nobody int he world can get driving directions in South Korea while anybody in the world can get driving directions in the United States.

Taeyoung October 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Re: Sean P

I don’t know what your last sentence means. You can certainly get driving directions in South Korea (everyone uses GPS — or tries to), and you can certainly get South Korean driving directions while outside South Korea (I just checked on Naver). I’m not physically in South Korea right now, and am too lazy to set up a proxy to check, but I’m pretty sure you have the same functionality when you use Naver maps while physically in South Korea. Besides my vague recollection that it worked fine the last time I tried, a lot of the functionality they’ve built in (e.g. travel time calculator, rerouting to avoid toll roads, etc.) is kind of useless for people who are thousands of miles away.

rbw October 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm

You’ve slightly misread. The surprising bit here is that people in NK can see hi-res imagery *of SK* while South Koreans get fuzzed views of their own country.

I’m reminded of the US military’s response to the WikiLeaks dump of documents about the war in Afghanistan: military personnel were ordered not to view the material because it was considered classified, despite having been made publicly, including to their enemies.

rbw October 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Hrm, that was supposed to be a reply to @pjt

whirlstonsally October 12, 2012 at 5:48 am

Turns out that this is due to Korean law (the Measurement Act) which prohibits the export of Korean map data without obtaining government approval.

Taeyoung October 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

Use Naver instead. Google maps also doesn’t always map locations correctly in Seoul, and the stylised building map is often out of date.

Iain McClatchie October 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm

If the problem is the export of map data, why doesn’t Google just build a datacenter in South Korea and generate the local driving directions there? If it wants to keep the rest of the loop in the existing places, it would have to get an export license for the vector maps…

Wait a sec. The Google StreetView imagery has already been exported, as has all the rest of the map information. So deriving vector and network data from that cannot constitute a further export since no more bits have left the country. So it would appear that the export that South Korea is objecting to is the REQUEST for the driving directions, and not the driving directions at all.

This seems bogus. What’s your source?

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