By Kim Yoo-chul
The Korean government remains cautious about giving a license for mapping activities here to the U.S. search giant Google due to security concerns, sources said Monday.
Google has been working with Kim & Chang, the country's leading law firm, to get permission for its mapping here, but has failed to persuade Korean officials, they said.
While it may not garner the same amount of excitement from the general public as Google Android, Google Glass or even self-driving cars, Google Maps is an important project for the search giant.
Although Google isn't the first firm to put maps on the web, Google Maps has a more intuitive interface letting users drag, pan and zoom all around the map instead of moving between small and individual map tiles, according to officials and users.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently insisted that censorship around the world could end in a decade, and better use of encryption will help the public overcome government surveillance.
While Google is insisting its mapping activities were mostly aimed at providing creative value to people, there are still many issues that should be addressed and questions that Google needs to answer, the sources said.
"We are still concerned about Google's moves to upload sensitive content without any mandatory security vetting, probably putting national security at stake. We, however, don't have a plan to suspend a Street View service over security concerns," said an official from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
In April, Google hired Kim & Chang as its legal representative to work on enabling it to gain approval for its full mapping activities in Korea after the California-based outfit had been denied full access for aerial pictures by Seoul in 2010.
The law firm aims to get an approval from the ministry by the end of this year, officials said. Details about the Google moves weren't known.
"Google insists that international communities will get a better understanding of Korea if its mapping activities are approved. However, that will help Google Maps become more popular and pose threats to Korean competitors," said an analyst in Seoul.
He said Google intends to use mapping data acquired via its activities for commercial purposes.
The ministry official said Naver and Daum Communications, the nation's top two search engines, are being "checked" due to security problems, so granting the license to only Google could be discriminatory against them.
Officials at Kim & Chang declined to comment.
Google is now one of several tech companies embroiled in the controversy over the reach of U.S. government spying.
Google had acknowledged in 2010 that a fleet of cars it operates to map the world's streets had mistakenly collected passwords and other personal data from home consumers' wireless networks over a two year-period.