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China Set to Grant Nokia Digital Mapping Rights, Google Nowhere in Sight

Nokia’s is on track to get an official license to offer online digital map services in China, according to some reports. It would become the first foreign company to win the right. Will this give Ovi maps a new lease on life? It just might–since Google won’t be competing. 

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Nokia’s is on track to get an official license to offer online digital map services in China, according to some reports. It would become the first foreign company to win the right. Will this give Ovi maps a new lease on life? It just might–since Google won’t be competing. 

China’s been dropping the ban-hammer on many online operations this year, in an attempt to control how the Web influences its culture and government control over the society. And back in May the government placed an embargo on every attempt to produce or distribute online maps of the country, unless the companies concerned were officially licensed (and presumably subject to a strict code of practice dictating what they can actually map). The fear inside China’s corridors of power was that unlicensed, and thus illegal, mapping efforts could expose sensitive military secrets for everyone to see (everyone apart from China’s political rivals, of course, who already have all sorts of maps at their disposal). This is for consumers inside China, obviously, as all of the rest of us can ogle Google maps for Chinese military oddities like that shown in the image–a collection of fake runways in the middle of nowhere. 

We’re teasing, slightly, since the U.K. for one censors some of its government-backed Ordinance Survey maps to remove data on military sites, and the U.S. government, among others, forces Google to blur out info on some locations–though not Area 51 for some reason.

But neither Google nor Microsoft have applied for licenses, so the fact the Nokia’s about to gain permission to supply maps inside China is something of a coup for the management in Espoo. Nokia’s business is suffering in all sorts of ways, so perhaps this is a fabulous opportunity for the company to steal a march in a whole new marketspace.

It’s also evidence that operating inside China is such a tempting financial opportunity that western companies are prepared to bend to the censorial, controlling whims of the Chinese authorities in order to gain the necessary permissions. Google itself seems to have done just that… so will Nokia’s lead in Chinese digital maps be short-lived if Google decides to apply for mapping permissions itself?

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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