Google lost in a new world without maps

Updated: 2011-03-31 10:17

By Wang Xing (China Daily)

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Google lost in a new world without maps

An advertisement for Google's mapping service on a bus in Beijing. Google's market share in China dropped to 19.6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, from 35.6 percent for the same period a year earlier. [Photo / for China Daily]

The US-based search engine has yet to apply for a license for services

BEIJING - Google Inc's operations in China may face another crisis as the world's biggest search engine had not yet applied for a license for its online mapping services as the official deadline arrived on Thursday.

That places a question mark over Google's long-term development in the country with the world's biggest Internet population and millions of Android-based smartphone users.

A source close to Google's China operation told China Daily on Wednesday that it was "very unlikely" that the US search engine would apply for the online mapping license before the deadline.

Although missing the deadline will not lead to an immediate shutdown of Google's mapping services in China, industry analysts said that it is a "pessimistic" sign for Google's already soured relationship with the Chinese government.

In an e-mail reply to questions from China Daily, the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) confirmed that as of March 28, Google had not applied for an online mapping license.

The bureau said it will make public the names of companies who failed to get a license, but continue to run mapping services in the country. The bureau has the right to shut down services after July 1, according to a regulation announced in May.

A spokesperson for Google China on Wednesday declined to confirm whether the company had applied for a license, and simply reiterated an early statement that "we are examining the regulations to understand their impact on our map products in China".

Since Google moved its web search service to Hong Kong after refusing to censor search results as required by the Chinese government, Google's market share dropped to 19.6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, from 35.6 percent for the same period a year earlier.

In the latest round of friction, Google accused the Chinese government of disrupting its Gmail service and disguising the blockage as Google's own technical issue. However, Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry, refuted the claims on March 22, saying they were "unacceptable".

"Actually, I'm pretty pessimistic (about Google's outlook in China)," said Duncan Clark, president of the Beijing-based research firm BDA China.

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He said because national security and social stabilities are apparently top concerns for the Chinese government at present, there is little room for the two sides to reach any meaningful compromise.

Technically, Google can continue to provide mapping service for mainland users from Hong Kong, just as it is providing its search services now. The service could, however, be disrupted by the regulators who could make it difficult to gain access from the mainland.

"Online mapping is a strategic service for companies like Google," said Ren Yanghui, an analyst from the domestic research firm Analysys International. "If the service is disabled, Google's long-term development will be severely affected in China, as will the Android mobile operating system favored by many Chinese users."

By mid-February, the SBSM had granted mapping licenses to 105 websites including, Sina Corp and China Mobile.

The SBSM told China Daily that it plans to launch a mobile version of its mapping service later this year and aims to introduce strategic partners to develop its own service "Map World", which was launched in October.


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