Google's mapping service hits a bump in the road
Updated: 2012-02-02 09:52
By Chen Limin (China Daily)
Maps of Beijing on the websites of Baidu Inc and Google Inc. Companies need to have a license to provide mapping services in China as the service may involve information related to national security. [Photo / Bloomberg]
Web firm unable to introduce new features without necessary license
BEIJING - The search engine Google Inc is unable to provide "new" online mapping services in China. That's because the company has yet to receive a license to conduct the business from China's industry regulator, citing a deadline of Feb 1.
The news is a negative signal for the company's operations in the country, where its market share is declining, said analysts.
The National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation is examining a license application it received last year from the Chinese division of Google, the administration said in an e-mailed statement to China Daily on Wednesday.
However, it didn't elaborate what "new" online mapping services refers to in its statement.
It's not known when a result for the company's application will be announced, although other major online mapping services providers have been granted licenses. By Jan 31, the administration had granted licenses to 279 online providers, it said.
Since last year, Google has seen its share of the online mapping market shrink, partly because of the uncertainty over whether it will be awarded a license.
In the third quarter of last year, about 61 percent of the daily traffic to online mapping websites went to Baidu Inc, China's biggest search engine by market share, followed by almost 10 percent for Mapbar.com, and Google had 9 percent, according to the domestic research company Analysys International.
Moreover, an increasing number of websites that use the data provided by online mapping services providers have turned to Google's rivals, according to analyst Yan Xiaojia of Analysys International.
There are 48,000 websites of this type in China, and about 60 percent of them used Google's mapping data in the first half of last year. However, the company is now losing its dominant position, said Yan.
Hong Bo, an IT critic who follows Google, said the administration's statement may deliver a blow to the company. Internet users will also be affected if Google's current online mapping business is further influenced in the future.
In a statement to China Daily, Google China said that it had "nothing new to add" to an earlier statement that it was "in discussions with the government about how we can offer a mapping product in China".
The company's online mapping service, Ditu.google.cn, is still available. In the statement, the administration said Google will still be able to operate its current business.
Google moved its searching business to Hong Kong in 2010, and since then it has seen its share of the online search market eaten up by rivals.
However, Hong Bo said that the online mapping service is only part of Google's business in China, and the company's Android mobile operating system is reaching an increasingly large number of users and is the most popular operating system among the nation's smartphone users.
In January, Daniel Alegre, president of the company's Asia-Pacific operations, told Bloomberg News: "We have some of the best employees at Google and we continue to grow not only our revenue but also our headcount in the country."
Alegre said Google's business in China is growing and "continues to thrive" because of the rising demand for advertising services.
Companies need to have a license to provide mapping services in China as the service may involve information related to national security.
Companies that didn't apply for a license to provide the mapping services would not be allowed to continue doing so after Feb 1, the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation said in a statement on its website on Jan 5.