BEIJING - Authorities have approved 18 domestic companies to provide Internet mapping services in the country, with a number of applications from foreign vendors still being considered.
The domestic companies were selected out of about 30 applicants and the list of approved providers is expected to be announced soon, the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) told China Daily.
The move is expected to pose challenges for the operation of foreign Internet companies such as Google in China.
"According to China's Surveying and Mapping Law, foreign firms are not allowed to provide surveying and mapping services. Their activities in China must be under joint ventures or in partnership with domestic firms," the SBSM said.
The regulator said it has received a few applications from eligible foreign firms and is "still examining" them.
To avoid state secrets being disclosed and uncertified maps published online, the SBSM launched a regulation last month requiring all companies providing online map and location services in China to apply for approval.
The regulation, which took effect this month, gives the authorities the right to shut down providers that fail to get a license by the end of this year.
A Wall Street Journal report said last week that Google has applied for such a license, citing anonymous official sources.
Nokia China is also seeking a license for its Ovi Map service in China, the company confirmed with China Daily on Wednesday.
Microsoft, which runs its Bing Maps service through a domestic joint venture in China, did not want to comment.
"Among all the foreign vendors, Google may have some trouble getting a license because currently all its servers that provide map services are outside China," said Ren Yanghui, an analyst of research firm Analysys International.
According to the latest regulation, qualified online map service providers are required to keep servers storing map data inside the country and must have no record of information leakage in any form in the past three years.
Although Google moved its Chinese online search services to Hong Kong in March, the US-based search engine is still providing its Google Maps service on the Chinese mainland via Google.cn, a domestic website run by Google's domestic joint venture.
In the past few weeks, authorities in Germany, Canada and New Zealand have started investigations over Google's Street View service, which is an option on Google Maps that allows panoramic views of streets worldwide. The countries cited privacy concerns for their probe of the Internet giant's service.
Multiple US states are also expected to launch inquiries into the collection of data from unsecured wireless networks.
Google China did not want to comment on Wednesday.
Guan Dai, a senior analyst at research firm In-Stat China, said Google may still have a good chance of getting its map services approved, as its decision to move its search services to Hong Kong has raised concern from the foreign business community.
The total revenue of China's online map market rose from 245 million yuan ($36 million) in 2008 to 330 million yuan last year, figures from Analysys International showed.
Baidu, DDMap and Google are the major online map providers in China, which altogether account for more than half of the market share.
Baidu said on Wednesday the SBSM has yet to approve its Internet map service.