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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Aug. 27)

All Headlines 09:28 August 27, 2016

Mapping out compromise
Government, Google should reach middle ground

The government's decision to put off its verdict on Google's request to allow the transfer of Korean digital map data to its overseas servers illustrates the tricky nature of the issue.

A pan-government committee reviewing the case said that it needed more time to discuss the issue -- among government officials and with Google -- and it plans to make a final decision in November this year.

Indeed, providing the global tech giant unlimited access to Korea's digital map data is a complicated matter, with a lot of elements tied together -- from national security and fair competition to fair trade and development of new industries like driverless vehicles, the internet of things, drones and so on.

The first issue of contention is national security concerns. Relevant ministries want to reject Google’s request unless it agrees to take measures to exclude key, sensitive facilities and places like the Blue House, military installations and other classified sites from its map services.

Considering constant security threats from North Korea, their concerns should not be underestimated. The North’s obsession with increasing its nuclear and missile capabilities should bolster security officials' position.

Some counter the argument, saying that much of Korea's map data is already available through other foreign map service and satellite image providers. But allowing the global search giant -- about 1 billion people used its map service last year -- unrestricted access to all geographic data would certainly increase security risks for a nation that has one of the world’s most unpredictable and belligerent regimes in the north of its border.

The second issue at stake is fair competition and fair trade. Some raise the possibility that rejecting Google’s request to use Korean map data may touch off a trade dispute with the US.

There is the other side of the coin too. Korean companies -- Google's competitors like Naver -- argue that permitting a company which is not regulated by Korean laws to freely use Korean map data discriminates against them.

This claim of "reverse discrimination" has logical ground in that the US-based Google runs servers in some foreign countries, but not in Korea. Because it also does not have any permanent business establishment here, Google pays few taxes although it generates about 1 trillion won ($890 million) here in annual sales.

So there are lingering suspicions that Google was not incorporated in Korea and nor does it run a server or a data center for the purpose of avoiding taxes and other domestic regulations. Whatever the motives might be, this certainly handicaps Korean players.

These and other concerns notwithstanding, proponents also have their arguments, which should not be dismissed outright.

Most of all, they insist that rejection of Google's request would make Korea a "Galapagos," leaving the country behind in the global drive toward the fourth industrial revolution. They cite as an example the limited access Korean mobile gamers have to the global hit augmented reality game Pokemon Go.

They also say that if Google provides unlimited map data services in Korea, local businesses and start-ups will be able to create new services.

All things considered, the government panel was well advised to take more time to make in-house discussions and further talks with Google. There must be a middle ground in contentious issues, and this too could be one such issue.

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