Google Maps Extends Coverage Through North Korea, Includes Gulags
January 29, 2013

Google Maps Extends Coverage Through North Korea, Includes Gulags

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Though the country is at war with its neighbors and closely watched by the US and the rest of the world, Google has found it fitting to play neutral with North Korea and cover the country in Google Maps.

Until today, the only view of North Korea available in Google Maps was stitched together using Google´s “Map Maker.” This process creates maps from data supplied by the public. Working with citizen cartographers, the new maps of North Korea are very accurate, even down to the country´s gulags.

"For a long time, one of the largest places with limited map data has been North Korea. But today we are changing that," said Jayanth Mysore, a senior product manager at Google Map Maker, in a company blog.

"While many people around the globe are fascinated with North Korea, these maps are especially important for the citizens of South Korea who have ancestral connections or still have family living there,” said Mysore.

North and South Korea are still at war and, as such, it is difficult for citizens in the south to come across any decent maps of the area. Now, South Korea and indeed the rest of the connected world will be able to digitally peruse through North Korea´s landscapes and populated areas, gulags and all.

Yet, while the rest of the connected world will have mostly open access to these maps, citizens of North Korea themselves might have a difficult time accessing the information.

Thanks to North Korea´s domestic and, incredibly censored Intranet, those few citizens who are granted web access will only be allowed to see what their government wants them to see. Experts have told the AFP that only a few hundred to as many as 1,000 North Koreans have access to the wide open Internet.

Users elsewhere in the world will see a detailed map of North Korea´s capital of Pyongyang, complete with hospitals, schools and local transportation stops. It´s even possible to see images of the re-education camps just outside of Pyongyang. One such gulag is known as Camp 22. Clearly labeled when zoomed in, the gulag´s food factory, guard restroom and office of the director are all easily noticeable.

According to the French news agency, there are more than 200,000 people currently contained in North Korea´s gulag system, each of these prisoners are thought to be enemies of the state. Google Maps have been used before to uncover the existence and location of such gulags, and these new maps may be used to further this cause.

Google made these announcements weeks after co-founder Eric Schmidt returned from the area on what he referred to as a “humanitarian” mission, wherein he told North Korean officials that their country would never develop if they continued to restrict the Internet.

South Korean officials have spoken up about Google´s new maps of North Korea, with one unification ministry spokesperson saying:

"We think that this could be an opportunity for the world to know more about North Korea and an opportunity for the North to open itself more.”

According to a contributor to these new maps, Sebastiaan van Oyen from Australia, while these maps are best at the basic level, the hardest part going forward will be obtaining more detailed information of local features.

"Keep in the back of your mind that there are restricted areas and not much (readily available) local knowledge outside of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea,” said van Oyen, speaking to the BBC.