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China's regulations to weed out user-generated maps

June 24, 2010

By Victoria Ho
ZDNet Asia
June 9, 2010

Summary
The country's new restrictions on online maps
will likely eliminate the thousands of
crowd-sourced maps in the country, as well as
Google's own service, says analyst.

With China requiring online maps providers to
operate under licenses this month, crowd-sourced
maps and Google's own online product may soon
face elimination in the market, says an analyst.

According to reports, the country's State Bureau
of Surveying and Mapping announced last month
that it would start issuing licenses to Internet
maps providers in the country.

Charice Wang, an analyst with Ovum's telecom
regulation team, noted that the maps are also
expected to be hosted on servers based in China.
This means Google, which provides a maps service
in the country but which recently moved its
search service to Hong Kong after a dispute with
the Chinese government, may be forced to stop
including maps of China in its Google Maps service, she noted.

The new rule mandating all Internet maps to be
stored in the country may be difficult for Google
to accept, coming on top of its ongoing strike in the country, said Wang.

But the search giant may have to back down and
accept the new Chinese regulations if it values
its place in the Chinese mapping market, she added.

The Chinese Bureau has also extended the
restrictions to include maps provided on mobile
devices, in addition to PC browsers. This is in
line with efforts started last year by the
government to crack down on unauthorized leaks of
sensitive government data within maps online.

Wang said this is expected to mostly impact the
many crowd-sourced maps on sites such as
lifestyle and travel Web sites. The government,
already accustomed to practicing censorship
online, has been mostly concerned with such
user-generated maps, including military
information and state secrets within their sites, she said.

There have been as many as 42,000 user-generated
maps in the country. A rise in GPS-enabled mobile
devices has also made it easier for more users to
contribute location-based data to these services, said the analyst.

"Many blogs and online forums will remove
user-generated maps under the new regulation," she said.

The parties likely to benefit from the regulation
would be large Web properties carrying maps such
as Baidu and Sogou, as well as Google rival,
Microsoft, which provides a maps service under its Bing name.

"These might all increase their market share if
Google closes its mapping service in mainland China," said Wang.

Rather than brand this a censorship exercise, the
Chinese government has said in reports that this
is an effort to regulate the quality of maps
online and to promote "orderly development" of Chinese maps services.
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