BEIJING - No application has been received from Google Inc to provide Internet mapping services in China, authorities said on Wednesday, raising fresh uncertainty since the US search engine renewed its Chinese website license two months ago.
Song Chaozhi, deputy director general of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), told China Daily that about 70 to 80 firms had submitted their applications since the bureau introduced a new regulation in May that required companies providing online map and location services in China to apply for approval.
"Although Google has made some initial contact with us, it has not officially submitted an application," said Song. He noted that the Finnish cell phone maker Nokia was the only foreign firm to have applied.
SBSM on Wednesday granted online mapping licenses to 31 firms, including Nokia, Baidu, Alibaba, Sohu, Sina and Tencent. Companies such as Google and Microsoft, which were earlier reported to have submitted applications, were not granted a license.
Song said on Wednesday that the rights of firms which received a license will be protected by Chinese laws and regulations. But he reiterated that qualified online map service providers were required to keep servers that stored map data inside the country and must have no record of information leakage in any form over the past three years.
He also disclosed that Google would send a senior executive to China this week to talk with the bureau about the licensing issue.
Marsha Wang, spokesperson for Google China, refused to comment on whether Google had submitted an application to SBSM or whether it will send an executive to China. She said the company was still examining the impact of the SBSM regulation.
Although Google moved its Chinese online search services to Hong Kong in March, the US-based search engine was still providing its map service on the Chinese mainland via Google.cn, a domestic website run by Google's Chinese joint venture.
In July, Google announced that it had its Internet Content Provider (ICP) license renewed in China, ending a stand-off with Chinese authorities that had lasted for several weeks.
"I don't think the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) extending Google China's ICP license indicates it will also grant a map license," said Liu Ning, analyst from the Beijing-based research firm BDA China. "They are issued by two separate government agencies - MIIT and SBSM - separately."
Liu said if Google China fails to get the license, it will affect millions of smaller Chinese websites which are using Google China's map APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). "That will further decrease Google's search market share in China," he added.
Google's mainland service became unstable after the company redirected users to its Hong Kong site, raising concerns from both users and advertisers.
As a result, the company's market share in China dropped to 24.2 percent in the second quarter of this year, from 35.6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, figures from research firm Analysys International showed. The market share of Baidu Inc surged from 58.4 percent to 70 percent during the same period.
"Online mapping is a vital service for the success of Internet firms in China," said Ren Yanghui, an analyst from Analysys International. "If Google fails to get the license, it will only help Baidu dominate the market."
According to Ren, the total revenue of China's online map market rose from 245 million yuan ($36 million) in 2008 to 330 million yuan last year. He said Baidu, DDMap and Google were the major online map providers in China, and together accounted for most of the market share.