Zoom in on a North Korean gulag with Google | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 29.01.2013
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Zoom in on a North Korean gulag with Google

Google has rolled out what it says is the most detailed map of North Korea. Created using data from "citizen cartographers," the map offers users virtual access to the isolated country.

The maps make the differences between North and South Korea very clear. There is much more information on the South, as this image (above) of the two countries' Demilitarized Zone shows. Until now, detailed maps of North Korea have been scarce – on Google, the country was almost a blank sheet.

Data for the maps was provided by a "community of citizen cartographers," as Google puts it, and fact-checked in a similar way to the way that articles are checked on Wikipedia. The open source project has taken a few years for the project to be completed. But critics highlight the fact that Google will dictate the technology and the devices on which we can access the maps.

Ironically, it is most likely to be users in the richer and better-connected South Korea who will benefit first from the maps. Internet access remains restricted by Pyongyang – users are required to seek permission from the state. But the maps of the isolated country will be more than just a curiosity for South Koreans – many still have historical connections to the north, have family living there, and also hope the two sides will one day reunify.

The release of maps comes just weeks after Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, visited Pyongyang. He is the highest-profile US executive to have visit North Korea, which despite its restrictive online policies is reportedly undergoing a digital revolution.

And if you have ever wanted to visit a North Korean gulag (labor camp), you can now zoom in on one on Google. There are even addresses - just in case you were wondering about how to get there.

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