Google expands North Korea map coverage

Google has puts its first detailed maps online of North Korea, a country that has so far been mostly blank on the search giant’s popular Maps website.

The data was compiled on Google’s Map Maker tool, which allows users to contribute information mainly using satellite images or local knowledge.

Many landmarks are now labelled, as are the notorious prison labour camps and nuclear research sites.

The move comes a few weeks after the head of Google visited North Korea.

In the capital, Pyongyang, schools, theatres, government buildings and underground stops are now marked in Google Maps, as are statues, some embassies, an ice rink and the infamous 105-storey Ryugyong hotel, which has been under construction for more than 25 years.

The Yongbyong nuclear site is labelled, to the north, and a road called Nuclear Test Road, leading to a site north of Punggye-ri which is believed to be where Pyongyang is preparing to test a nuclear device.

There is little detail of much of the country but a number of grey sites are marked as being some of the many prison labour camps in North Korea, which some 200,000 people are thought to be held.

In the largest camp – Camp 22 – near the border with China, the map identifies an armoury, a food factory and a guard’s rest room.

BBC technology correspondent Mark Gregory says the information given by the maps is likely to be of particular interest in South Korea, where many people have ancestral connections or family still living in the North.

But the citizens of North Korea itself will get little benefit from it, he adds, as only a few hundred are allowed access to the internet by their government.

The popularity of mobile devices has rekindled interest in local search apps, which help businesses target customers nearby and users find local establishments. These include apps like Foursquare, Waze, AppLocal, and the like (see app reviews at AppsPirate).

Scant information

Launched in 2008, Map Maker data has been used to build maps in Google Maps for countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The process uses data sent in by members of the public which are then fact-checked. In the case of North Korea, Google said satellite images were the main source.

“For a long time, one of the largest places with limited map data has been North Korea. But today we are changing that,” said Jayanth Mysore, senior product manager at Google Map Maker.

“As a result, the world can access maps of North Korea that offer much more information and detail than before,” he said.

Google said a large number of people in South Korea had contributed information to create usable maps.

Continue reading at BBC News. This article originally appeared on BBC News and was republished under permission.

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