China regulates Online Map Services to address national security breach, will Google Earth comply?


News flashback:

On May 17, 2010 CCTV news reported that Chinese government shuts down a famous Internet forum – “Moonlight Forum”, because this website carried sensitive military information in China such as locations of airfield, navy bases and barracks of Hong Kong PLA battalion that posed as a threat to China’s state national security.

In the news translated by ESWN:

The Moonlight Forum is a community website frequented by military aficionados.  They have sections such as "China’s nuclear test sites," "Chinese military airfields," "military camps around Beijing," "the catalog of Chinese military equipment" and so on.  Compared to other military websites, the Moonlight Forum links directly to a certain overseas geographical mapping search engine.  Thus, users can go through the client software and freely browse the high-resolution satellite photo maps all over the world.  Users can also annotate the geographical locations of various military locations on maps.


But everybody can access these satellite photos on the Internet through services like Google Earth so how is this a security leak? The Chinese Survey Bureau deputy director explained that certain satellite image is not a map (even thought it captures military facilities in the photo) because it does not have any annotations and content, but as soon as someone annotates the geographical information about military facilities that ought to be kept secret, it becomes a security breach.

On May 6, 2010 Moonlight Forum leader, 27-year-old programmer Xiao Long admitted that he provided an Internet platform which sorts and publishes military information and accepted the administrative penalties imposed by law enforcement and promised to clean up the website.

From Sina BBS:

“Chinese Government finally fights back Google Maps (Earth) that exposes military facilities”

China has recently introduced many new regulations on Online Map Services, perhaps is to show people its attitude towards this Internet giant – Google for the first time since March when Google stopped its search engine service in Mainland China.

According to new regulations released by the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) last month, all companies in China providing Online Map Services including locating, searching or downloading, must submit a request of approval in order to continue operations. This set of new rules was posted on the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping website, very little people outside of China paid attention to this.

Of all the requirements, companies must prove that they have system in place to ensure that their map (including the disputed area) annotations are in line with the regulations; sensitive information like military locations must be removed.

Google allows users to annotate their online maps; for such company to comply with the new regulations may be difficult.

“I am not clear whether Google will be approved.” One government official who is familiar with the new regulations said Google has already applied, but he did not reveal the state of the approval process. SBSM spokesman also declined to comment.

Google spokesman only said that, no matter where we operate, we will comply with the local laws and regulations.

Complying with the regulation does not mean getting the permit, especially for Google because it already had disputes with the Government because of resisting censorship.

Beijing research firm Analysys International chief executive Edward Yu (于扬) said, it is important to keep good relationship with the government when doing business in any country, but in China, this is especially important and challenging; people all know, China usually has many government agencies posting new rules and regulations, and it can be really random in the implementation process, also different government departments’ specific implementation may vary.

The list of companies first obtain the permit is expected to be announced in later this month, the list of companies which do not comply with the new rules will be announced during the year. Companies who are rejected are to be prohibited to continue to provide online map services in China.

Since 2006 when China launched search services, Google has always been following the local regulations until March of this year, Google shut down some of their services, and moved to Hong Kong which does not have content filtering. This is like a splat in the face of China’s censorship, indeed a bald move. Since then people generally expect the Chinese government may eventually take counter actions. So far, continues to operate (in Hong Kong) and regulatory agencies did not permanently shield the access to Google’s other global sites in China. (Though the content is still filtered)

Google Map service is one of the fastest-growing businesses in China, but the percent of the total traffic in China is still relatively small. In addition to Chinese Google Maps website, the Google partner sites provide the map service through mobile phone applications. According to data from Analysys International, China’s Online Map Service grew from a total income of 8.7 million USD in 2005 to 72 million USD in 2010.

The Chinese government has always been on guard against the Online Map Services, not only considering the issue of national security, but also because of the sensitive political issues on the differences when defining China’s borders. Prior to 2008, before the growing popularity of online maps, government regulation on online map services was not strict. The new regulation is part of the more stringent management measures.

Vice-director of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping Song Chaozhi made a statement on the official website, the problems exist in the Internet maps not only harm our national security and national dignity, it even can bring negative political influences. SBSM estimates that China now has 40,000 online map service providers. However, Google Map service is one of the most popular services.

Map service website Mapabc whose parent company Autonavi Software Co. ltd. located in Beijing provides map service which uses China Google Maps. The company says it has received approval from the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. Mapabc said it already applied for a license and is expected to get it soon.

However, analysts say it is unlikely that Google will be denied of a permit of its own to operate map services. Research firm In-Stat China analyst Guan Dai said, Google Maps is a product of Google, its partners cannot use their own permits to operate Google Maps. She thinks if Google makes some adjustments, for example blurring or adjusting certain elements of “Google Earth”, it is very likely to obtain a permit.

A number of other services on Google Maps raised objections by some other countries, but those problems are mainly about privacy issues.

So far, the consequences of the decision made by Google in March were not as serious as many observers have expected. After Google announced the decision to withdraw from China, some of its advertising agencies have complained that the sales declined, and some of the partners distanced themselves away from Google. However Google’s Android mobile operating system is still sold in China, it’s just some are sold with the rival Baidu and Microsoft Bing software bundles. Chinese portal Sina continued to use Google search bar on its home page.  And studies from Analysys International have shown that Google’s Chinese music search service became very popular.

The end of the first quarter this year, Google’s search market share in China declined from 35.6% to 30.9% from the previous quarter. Since then, Google’s revenue in China was already stabilized. Edward Yu said, Google’s market share decline was not as serious as expected.

  1. This reminds me of some photos which said is the place where 2012 noah’s ark build

    1. Yep , but we can’t use google to get some sensitive infos , why we have to use it?
      it was said : Inner info , use baidu .. Outter info use google. But google’s gone

  2. So in case I want to make my map service compliant, where do I go to download the Official List of Secret Places that must be kept adequately secret?

  3. I am quite sure that U.S. edits Google Earth images, when it comes to its security issues.
    And instead of military bases – you see forests and parks in those places…

    1. the u.s. does require google to blur images on google earth. some others probably do too.

      1. The US military doesn’t “require” google to blur out bases; they bought exclusive licenses to google’s data for any places they consider sensitive. The Chinese government is free to do the same for Chinese military locations, otherwise they’re tripping if they think google will put up with a takedown demand.

  4. @Crystal:


    There is no need to edit CONSUMER/CIVILIAN satellite images. The big governments all have their own satellites providing them with their own untouchable images.

    Security thru obscurity is a myth that has been proven numerous times to be sheer wishful stupidity.

  5. Sorry Crystal, you are completely wrong. The “U.S.” (who, the U.S. government?? – they have no control over Google Earth’s satellite pictures) does NOT edit ANY GE images…

    here are some examples of UNEDITED GE images: (located in the USA)

    and from China (from 4 years ago!!!! what rock were you sleeping under??)

    Indian Air force bases… also from YEARS ago…

    Sorry Crystal, you and the communist party are years late in finding out about google earth… 🙂

  6. Some places are blurred, like for example, Taiwan’s new Defense Center -I just see the whole surrounding area was also blurred- ( 25° 4’51.17″N # 121°32’31.16″E). Of course is not because of China army… they have their own satellites with much more precise pictures in all the band spectrum you may imagine (infrared, ultraviolet, red, yellow and whatever), but to avoid sharing sensitive information to terrorist groups or one-man-mad-fighter who may want to use that information.

  7. I get a strange feeling that we are about to hear very soon of a new service offered through a well known mainland Chinese based search engine. Baidu Ditu!

  8. Who gives a rats about China’s google security concerns. The citizens of tubbyland …lots of sex, drugs and loud music …..can be picked up by this infernal device, and then the whole world works out the fact that we don’t cut the front lawn very often. Terrible invasion of our hippie life style.

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