Google not on mapping list

   Date:2010/07/01     Source:

BEIJING - Google Inc has not been included in the initial list of companies that the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) plans to approve to provide online mapping services in the country.

Twenty-three domestic companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Sohu are among those expected to be granted a license to provide the services, the SBSM has said.

Google's failure to make the list may bring uncertainties for the US-based Internet search giant's Chinese operations, as its domestic website license expired on Wednesday, analysts said.

The search engine's joint venture on the Chinese mainland was "very late" in its application to renew its website license, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

But "relevant departments are dealing with the application and there will be a result soon", Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

Other foreign companies such as Microsoft and Nokia which reportedly applied for licenses were also not included in the latest list.

Companies that fail to get a license from the SBSM will also be unable to provide Internet mapping services via mobile phones in the country, according to SBSM.

That will impact Google's 2 million active mobile map users in China, said Guan Dai, an analyst from research firm In-Stat China.

An SBSM official on Wednesday refused to comment on why foreign firms have not been approved. The bureau plans to release an official announcement in several days, he told China Daily.

The bureau started posting the list on June 13 and said it plans to grant licenses to listed companies soon.

"Google will hardly be able to get a license (for mapping services). Nor does it have a good chance of getting its ICP (Internet Content Provider) license renewed," said Hu Yanping, head of the Data Center of China Internet, a domestic research firm.

The ICP license is a permit issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to allow websites to operate in China. Authorities have the right to shut down any website that fails to get an ICP license or have it renewed.

Google on Tuesday stopped automatically redirecting Chinese users to its Hong Kong site after the government called the approach "unacceptable" and refused to renew the ICP license of its domestic site, the company said.

On Wednesday, Google's web search engine in China was "partially blocked", AFP reported, citing a web page maintained by Google on the accessibility to its services on the Chinese mainland.

The service had previously been listed as "fully or mostly accessible."

David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said on the company's blog that it has re-submitted the application to renew the license but warned that the website may eventually "go dark".

It is still unclear whether the government will allow Google to continue its business operations. The MIIT did not want to comment on Wednesday.

Xinhua criticized Drummond in a commentary for his earlier blog saying that "we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on". Xinhua said Drummond's post runs against the promise by Google's Chinese partner to "abide by Chinese laws".

"Mr Drummond wants to score political points while benefiting from the Chinese economy. He is trying to make it an issue on ICP renewal," Xinhua wrote.

"If is completely shut down, the impact will be huge," said Edward Yu, president of domestic research firm Analysys International.

Google's market share in China fell to 30.9 percent in the first quarter from 35.6 percent three months earlier, figures from Analysys showed.

Traffic to Google's Hong Kong site dropped by about 5 percent on Wednesday, figures from US online traffic tracker Alexa Internet showed.

"Keeping on the sidelines of the largest Internet market by population and a booming economy has to hurt," said Duncan Clark, chairman of tech consultancy BDA China.

He said Google's announcement in January to pull back from the Chinese mainland was a "provocative" move against the Chinese government in that the redirection of users "was something that challenged its concept of sovereignty".

"Clearly, they are struggling with the commercial consequences of their earlier decision - they want to have their China cake and eat it too," he said.

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