Posts tagged Google

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Sony puts ‘The Interview’ online

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What a difference a week makes. The Christmas Day release of “The Interview” is back on and Sony has already begun offering the movie online.

The movie, a comedy in which two TV reporters embark on a secret mission to kill Kim Jong Un, appeared on YouTube and Google Play on December 23 at 1pm ET. It costs $5.99 to rent for 48 hours and $15 to own.

Sony's 'The Interview' became available on Google Play from 1800 UTC on December 24, 2014.

Sony’s ‘The Interview’ became available on Google Play from 1800 UTC on December 24, 2014.

Google said that it was first approached by Sony on December 17, on the same day that is announced it would be canceling the December 25 release.

“Last Wednesday Sony began contacting a number of companies, including Google, to ask if we’d be able to make their movie, ‘The Interview,’ available online. We’d had a similar thought and were eager to help — though given everything that’s happened, the security implications were very much at the front of our minds.,” said David Drummond, Google’s chief lawyer in a statement.

“Of course it was tempting to hope that something else would happen to ensure this movie saw the light of day. But after discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be).”

The downtown area of Chasong, as shown on Daum Maps on August 30, 2014.

South Korea’s Daum launches North Korean mapping service

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Daum has launched a North Korean mapping service, becoming the first South Korean portal to offer maps of the country’s northern neighbor.

The maps are based on data from South Korea’s National Geographic Information Institute (NGII) and, according to local media, provide greater coverage of North Korea than Google Maps.

You can check the maps out for yourself on Daum’s mapping site.

The NGII’s data was previously available to South Korean government agencies and went on sale to the public in mid 2013. NGII offered the map, produced at a 1:25,000 scale, for 17,500 won (US$17).

It covers all of North Korea, detailing towns, roads, railways and stations, buildings and other landmarks but excludes the area near the inter-Korean border. The South Korean government has imposed restrictions on mapping of the border region inside its territory for years. On Google Maps, the border area in South Korea appears in satellite pictures but is largely devoid of roads and other landmarks in the mapping function.

A satellite view of the Korean border from Daum Maps. The area between South Korea (to the right) and North Korea doesn't include satellite imagery at fine resolution for security purposes. The imagery is available on Google Maps.

A satellite view of the Korean border from Daum Maps. The area between South Korea (to the right) and North Korea doesn’t include satellite imagery at fine resolution for security purposes. The imagery is available on Google Maps.

Launch of the data on Daum has received widespread coverage in the South Korean media.

The Joong Ang Ilbo quoted a researcher at the NGII as saying the maps have a 2.5 meter resolution, which means the pictures aren’t as sharp as Google Maps but, “the map covers all areas of the North, while Google only provides a few big cities like Pyongyang and Sinuiju.”

To see the difference, I chose at random Chasong (자성읍), a small town of a few thousand people north of Kanggye near the border with China.

The satellite images show that Google still maintains a big lead over Daum in that department.

The town of Chasong, North Korea, as shown on Daum Maps on August 29, 2014.

The town of Chasong, North Korea, as shown on Daum Maps on August 29, 2014.

The Daum map shows the city in quite a harsh light which, combined with the 2.5-meter resolution, makes things difficult to make out. In contrast, Google’s satellite picture is a much higher resolution so items like the monument in the town square (center, right) can quite clearly be seen.

The town of Chasong, North Korea, as shown on Google Maps on August 29, 2014.

The town of Chasong, North Korea, as shown on Google Maps on August 29, 2014.

But the NGII data presented by Daum clearly has the lead on railways and roads. Google has been asking volunteers to help fill out its map, but it’s still incomplete. The NGII data on Daum shows much more.

Here’s downtown Chasong in Daum Maps:

The downtown area of Chasong, as shown on Daum Maps on August 30, 2014.

The downtown area of Chasong, as shown on Daum Maps on August 30, 2014.

And here’s the same area in Google Maps:

The downtown area of Chasong, as shown on Google Maps on August 30, 2014.

The downtown area of Chasong, as shown on Google Maps on August 30, 2014.

It’s easy to see that the Daum map shows more roads and has more detail than Google.

The Daum Maps even give a clear view of North Korea’s concentration camps:

Kaechon Gulag and Bukchang Gulag as shown on Daum Maps on August 30, 2014.

Kaechon Gulag and Bukchang Gulag as shown on Daum Maps on August 30, 2014.

And Google:

Kaechon Gulag and Bukchang Gulag as shown on Google Maps on August 30, 2014.

Kaechon Gulag and Bukchang Gulag as shown on Google Maps on August 30, 2014.

Google launched navigation in North Korea on Google Maps earlier this year and the extra roads would, in theory, help provide more accurate directions but in reality, there are probably few who would rely on Google Maps to get around the country.

A Pyongyang highway interchange mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

North Korea driving instructions come to Google Maps

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North Korea has strict controls on internal movement, a scarcity of private car ownership and almost no Internet users. And now it’s also got satellite navigation through Google Maps.

The service is available through the web and mobile apps and allows users to calculate travel time by car or foot between points of interest in the Google database. It’s limited to roads that have already been mapped out on the service.

It’s been over a year since Google began adding roads, buildings, railway lines and other data to its map of North Korea. The country had for years appeared as a grey void but that began to change when users were asked to help start building the map.

“We encourage people from around the world to continue helping us improve the quality of these maps for everyone with Google Map Maker,” the company said in January 2013. “From this point forward, any further approved updates to the North Korean maps in Google Map Maker will also appear on Google Maps.”

As a result of that call for action, and perhaps additional information obtained by Google, users can now do things like this:

The route from Pyongyang to Panmunjon mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

The route from Pyongyang to Panmunjon mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

A Pyongyang highway interchange mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

A Pyongyang highway interchange mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

The Android app provides step-by-step instructions for the drive to Kaesong, which apparently takes a little under 2 hours assuming an average speed of around 105 kilometers per hour – perhaps a little ambitious although traffic hold ups shouldn’t be a problem.

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While the system appears to have data about many of the major roads in North Korea, it doesn’t contain any information about border crossings. Asking for routes to both Seoul and Bejing resulted in failure.

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While Google Maps shows railway lines, tram lines in Pyongyang, the Pyongyang Metro and Sunan airport, there’s no timetable data in the system so public transport searches also result in failure.

And because you can map from any known point to another, you can also plot an escape route on foot from the Yodok concentration camp to the Chinese border, although walking along a major road for 81 hours probably isn’t the best way to avoid getting caught.

A route from North Korea's Yodok concentration camp to the border with China, as mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

A route from North Korea’s Yodok concentration camp to the border with China, as mapped by Google (NorthKoreaTech)

While we’re looking at Google Maps on the Korean peninsular, a glance south of the border reveals an ironic twist. Here’s the directions to Panmunjon from Seoul:

The route from Seoul to Imjingak as shown on Google Maps (NorthKoreaTech)

The route from Seoul to Imjingak as shown on Google Maps (NorthKoreaTech)

If you take a close look, you’ll see that Google doesn’t have any data for South Korea’s civilian control zone, the area by the border with North Korea that appears as a grey blank. The closest the system can get is Imjingak and even then only public transport information is available.

Due to South Korean regulations, apparently related to the country’s internal security, driving directions are not available via Google. The U.S.-based company has to obey South Korean law because it had an office in Seoul. It has no such relationship with North Korea so it’s free to map whatever it wants in that country without fear of reprisal.

There are no driving directions available via Google Maps in South Korea (NorthKoreaTech)

There are no driving directions available via Google Maps in South Korea (NorthKoreaTech)

An image, apparently from Google's Android locator, shows a lost phone in Pyongyang

Lost phone found in Pyongyang?

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A smartphone that was lost in South Korea has apparently surfaced in Pyongyang.

A South Korean Internet used posted a screenshot from Google’s Android Device Manager that shows the phone on Sungri Street (승리거리) in Pyongyang. The page says the location accuracy is 75 meters.

Curtis Melvin, author of North Korea Economy Watch and authority on places in the DPRK, told me Sungri Street runs through the central district in Pyongyang. It’s marked on Google Maps and is the road that dissects Kim Il Sung Square.

It hasn’t been possible to verify the story, but the SHV-E210S is the model name of a Samsung Galaxy S III variant that is sold in South Korea.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that the Android Device Manager can find the handset because a typical North Korean cell phone or WiFi connection doesn’t have Internet access.

The phone is compatible with the WCMDA phone network technology used by Koryolink so it could be on the cellular network or it could be connected via WiFi. To be on the cellular network, it would have to be fitted with a local SIM card.

Or the whole thing could be fake.

An image, apparently from Google's Android locator, shows a lost phone in Pyongyang

An image, apparently from Google’s Android locator, shows a lost phone in Pyongyang

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Google on North Korean maps

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The recent addition of North Korea to Google’s Maps service made up a small part of the company’s presentation to developers at its annual conference on Wednesday.

Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Maps, spoke about adding data and what it meant during at keynote speech at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco.

North Korea had been a largely white area of Google Maps until it started publishing user-supplied data. Now a little information on Pyongyang and some of the major towns is included in the service, although it’s still far from complete.

Curtis Melvin’s North Korea Uncovered, even in the latest public edition from 2009, has considerably more information about North Korea. It can be loaded in Google Earth.

Curtis admits to some mistakes in the 2009 version that have since been updated. Some of those same mistakes are present in the data submitted to Google by users, which gives you an idea where some of those users are getting their information.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, speaks at the company's Big Tent event in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2013.

Schmidt’s Washington speech on North Korea, Internet and dictatorships

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Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, speaks at the company's Big Tent event in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2013.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, speaks at the company’s Big Tent event in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2013.

Google has posted video of Eric Schmidt’s remarks at the recent “Big Tent” event in Washington, D.C.

The Google-organized events act as idea summits and have been running for about three years and the D.C. event took place on April 26.

During his speech, the chairman of Google talked about North Korea and the impact that the connected world, and the Internet in particular, would have on authoritarian countries.

“In North Korea we visited with the government, of course that’s all there is in North Korea, and we went to the Korea Computer Center and they asked us all about future versions of Android,” he said in the speech. “Obviously they have access, at least in the government, to what we are doing, as if I was going to tell the future roadmap of Android to the North Koreans. I obviously didn’t.”

A screenshot from the Chosun Ilbo website on April 29, 2103.

A screenshot from the Chosun Ilbo website on April 29, 2103.

I’ve been waiting for the video to verify exactly what he said after a report in the Chosun Ilbo made it seem like the North Koreans were asking Schmidt for top-secret software code. (see image, right)

In fact, rather than trying “to get classified software technology” as the Chosun Ilbo painted, it appears the computer scientists just wanted to know what features would be available in future versions of Android. Pretty much everyone in the mobile industry has the same question — something Google could reveal that later this week at its I/O conference in San Francisco.

Getting Android doesn’t even need Google’s permission. The basic version of Android is open-source software that can be freely downloaded from the Internet. An export license may officially be required, but that doesn’t appear to have been a hurdle so far.

That basic version doesn’t include the Google services, like Gmail, Maps or YouTube. For those apps a licensing agreement is required with Google.

Beyond the North Korea-specific comments, the whole thing is worth watching if you’re interested in what’s driving Schmidt these days. Listen and it will become clear that his January trip to Pyongyang wasn’t at all about opening up North Korea to Google, but about opening up a dialogue with the country about it’s coming transition to a more connected place. That’s something he sees as inevitable.

“We’re going to see this one-way valve from the connected world to the non-connected world, and this is going to happen whether we like it or not,” he said.

More connectivity will not only transform the lives of North Koreans, but has the chance to fundamentally change the way the rest of the world looks at North Korea. Right now, too much of the world views North Korea by its government’s actions and sees the people as nothing more than a brain-washed populous. Schmidt argues that will change.

“All of a sudden we’re going to hear the distinct voices of citizens in those countries in a way we’ve never heard before, and by the way, they’re just like us. They’re human beings, they’re curious, they want the right things for their children, they want good health, they don’t want war, all those kinds of things,” he said.

But he acknowledges that authoritarian governments are going to push against further expansion of communications technology.

“Governments are going to work really, really hard to stop this because they way to really get a dictator going is to threaten their authority, which is the way revolutions occur,” he said.

There was a final shout-out to North Korea, when Schmidt said he viewed the country as the second worst for connectivity and flow of information in the world.

“What’s interesting is that I had always thought the worst place was North Korea, and I’ve since discovered there is an even worse place, which is Eritrea, which I have not yet been able to go to but is my objective,” Schmidt said.

Eritrea usually sits with North Korea at the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House press freedom rankings.

Reporters Without Borders recently characterized Eritrea as, “a vast open prison for its people.”

Eric Schmidt and the North Korean Internet dilemma

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130422-schmidt-bookGoogle Chairman Eric Schmidt has said a little bit more about his January trip to Pyongyang. [Updated: see below]

The “private, humanitarian” mission, as Schmidt termed it, surprised many and saw him turn up in Pyongyang with his daughter Sophie Schmidt, Jared Cohen, head of the Google Ideas think tank, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Kun “Tony” Namkung, a U.S.-based businessman that acts as a go-between in some deals between the U.S. and North Korea.

Schmidt and Cohen, who haven’t said much about the trip since leaving Pyongyang, penned a dual-bylined article in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday about the trip. The article, “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” covered the role of technology in the DPRK and other tightly-run countries and served as a preview of a new book by Schmidt and Cohen that will be published on April 23.

The Wall Street Journal article, which was accompanied by a video interview, didn’t reveal much not already know about the visit or what went on behind the scenes, but Schmidt does seem to have realized the students at Kim Il Sung University were surfing the Internet for his benefit.

When foreigners visit, the government stages Internet browsing sessions by having “students” look at pre-downloaded and preapproved content, spending hours (as they did when we were there) scrolling up and down their screens in totalitarian unison. — “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2013.

KCTV news, January 9, 2013

KCTV news, January 9, 2013

The Internet’s role, both present and future, in the DPRK is a difficult one. Schmidt understands that the values of the Internet he most identifies with — free expression, freedom of assembly, critical thinking, meritocracy — aren’t comfortable with the country’s leadership.

On a technical level, getting the country better connected wouldn’t be particularly difficult.

As Schmidt noted on his blog in January, it would be very easy for North Korea to connect both its cellular and intranet networks to the global Internet.

But things get mixed when it comes to reasons why North Korea’s government should do this.

Perhaps the best argument made by the Google chairman to-date for greater Internet use was on his blog back in January.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically. — Eric Schmidt, Google +, January 19, 2013. 

Speaking to reporters after leaving Pyongyang, Schmidt said he made it “very clear” to the people he met that failure to get connected would hurt the country.

So why not rush to make the connection?

Ironically, Schmidt also makes the best argument for not connecting to the Internet — at least from the point of view of the ruling elite.

None of this will transform the country overnight, but one thing is certain: Though it is possible to curb and monitor technology, once it is available, even the most repressive regimes are unable to put it back in the box. — “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2013.

KCTV news, January 8, 2013

KCTV news, January 8, 2013

And herein lies the North Korean problem. While greater Internet access will bring benefits to the country, Schmidt notes correctly that greater freedom to communicate and increased access to information never leads to good things for authoritarian regimes.

North Korea is currently trying to have it both ways.

Internet-based technologies like websites and video conferencing have been brought to a nationwide intranet and citizens can call and send text messages on cell phones, but neither connects to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, companies are being allowed controlled Internet access, either through the web or email, to do necessary business and gain some of the efficiencies of the modern world.

Where North Korea goes next will be crucial for the future wealth of the county and its people, but it seems almost inevitable that a step towards more Internet access will lead to a future for the leadership and military that is uncertain at best.

Update: Nick Sutton, editor of BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, wrote to tell me they interviewed Eric Schmidt on their programme on Monday. Schmidt talks about his visit and again makes his case for greater Internet access in the country.

Find his comments about North Korea at the 8:40 mark.

YouTube zaps another Uriminzokkiri video

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Another Uriminzokkiri video has been removed from YouTube for copyright infringement. This time it’s a propaganda video that borrowed its soundtrack from the video game “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.”

The takedown, confirmed by a message when users attempt to access the clip, comes just two weeks after a previous propaganda video was removed after a copyright complaint by Activision. That video used a computer-generated animation clip from Activision’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”

The latest removal comes after a copyright complaint from ZeniMax Media, a Maryland-based computer game publisher that puts out the game under its Bethesda Software division.

Uriminzokkiri regularly uses footage from foreign media in its productions. It usually goes largely unnoticed, but the Activision takedown a couple of weeks — likely as a result of coverage of the clip in the U.S. video gaming media — has meant extra eyes are now watching its output. As NKNews notes, some clips were taken from foreign TV coverage.

The Uriminzokkiri operation, which is based in China, needs to watch out that it doesn’t fall foul of YouTube’s copyright system otherwise it could lose the channel.

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