South Korea on Friday rejected a fresh request from global search engine Google to use government-supplied digital map data for global services, citing concerns about the exposure of sensitive security facilities.
Google's request was turned down by a joint government committee, which blamed the US tech giant for refusing to comply with government guidelines. The committee had put off judgment on Google's second request in August.
The search engine provides almost unrestricted map services worldwide but it cannot do so in South Korea because of what Google officials called unfair restrictions and a draconian security law.
Since its first attempt failed in 2007, Google has tried to gain access to South Korean maps, but hardliners like Defense Minister Han Min-koo have voiced a negative view, insisting sensitive facilities should be blurred out first.
Google failed to ease "security concerns", Choe Byong-nam, director general of the state-run National Geographic Information Institute said, insisting map data should be used prudently because of the confrontation between South and North Korea, which are still technically at war.
"Tourists here will be more convenient than before if Google uses our map data. Among other things, however, security was our top priority," he said.
Google expressed regret but promised not to violate the law in providing its service.
"Google also thinks security is a very important issue. However, we feel regret at today's decision," Google Korea said in a statement. "We positively assess the government's will to improve policies related to new technologies, and we hope Google's full map service will be provided in South Korea."
Google has refused to put its data server in South Korea, insisting users abroad could see sensitive facilities through mapping services provided by competitors. The tussle has hampered Google's efforts to roll out better services, including real-time traffic information, 3-D maps and driving directions in South Korea.
Google officials have argued South Korea must listen to complaints by foreign tourists who cannot use Google's service properly especially during the 2018 Winter Olympics in the eastern sky resort of Pyeongchang.
While accepting Google's logic, Choe said South Korea would step up the development of infrastructure and technology so that domestic firms could provide perfect multi-lingual location-based services.
He expressed concern about a possible trade dispute with the next US administration and suggested Google can seek government approval again under different circumstances. "I think trade frictions will be our concern."
South Korea's national security law, which has been used to curb pro-North Korean activities, bans unauthorized exports of map data to data centers outside South Korea.
Kwon Bom-jun, a Google software engineer in charge of map production, told a parliamentary debate earlier that South Korea could lose its global competitiveness in lucrative new businesses like Pokemon Go if it drags its feet in allowing the use of maps for global services.
South Korea may see the delayed introduction of innovation using mapping services and fall behind in global competition, Kwon said, citing Pokemon Go as an example. The mobile game has been a global hit but it's not available in South Korea because game developers use Google's mapping service.
Aju News Lim Chang-won = Park Sae-jin