Will Google Earth Be Banned By China?

A recent article in the China Daily says the Chinese government plans to crack down on “illegal mapping websites”. Min Yiren, Deputy Director of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), said there were nearly 10,000 online map websites in China, most of them showing unapproved maps. Those websites will be removed. He also said that foreign companies and individuals engaged in publishing online maps will be stopped. The campaign will be focused on sites “…that make mistakes such as labeling Taiwan a ‘country’, wrongly drawing national boundaries, or omitting islands such as the South China Islands, Diaoyu Islands and Chiwei Island.” The justification for these moves are that they are a “threat to State security”.
So, what will this mean for mapping applications like Google Maps and Google Earth? Will Google be able to offer a China-sanitized version of the Google Earth layers to satisfy the Chinese authorities? They could modify the borders and remove unwanted placemarks from the Google Earth Community layers.
But, what about the imagery? Chinese authorities have reportedly been concerned about satellite imagery which have shown military sites like their nuclear submarine base. Would Google actually censor the satellite imagery for all users of Google Earth because of a demand of China? My guess is they wouldn’t, because as long as the imagery is available for purchase from public sources, someone can always put the images in Google Earth by simply making an image overlay.
Google’s China office has a special mapping application which presumably can be made to meet local requirements.
I asked Google’s Michael Jones about the news report from China. He said he couldn’t speculate about planned or future policy or enforcement changes. An understandable response. I also asked him about the China mapping application and Michael said it “uses locally licensed data from reputable firms trusted by local authorities. We have no reason to expect that even the strictest enforcement of law would limit that map product in the Chinese market.”
The big question is whether Google would take the righteous stance and allow Google Earth to be banned in China rather than change its policies with regards to making public information available to the world? I could see them making a modified version of their databases for Chinese users – but, I would hope they wouldn’t censor the data for non-Chinese users. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. Just like McDonald’s in India had to change recipe to make sure no beef existed in its hamburger, an international business has to respect the local people’s tradition and laws if it wants to be successful. It is Google’s call whether it will make a Chinese version of their databases.
    It is understandable that Chinese government is concerned about the imagery for its national security reasons. Similarly in US, Google had to remove its imagery of US army base recently. http://www.latimes.com/technology/la-fi-google7mar07,1,6259319.story

  2. Google has already accepted to censor some images. And it is not in China, but in France; go there
    and download the kmz from this article about nuclear plants in France. Some places refering nuclear nuclear fuel plants have been smudged by Google or by the satellite imagery provider…

  3. This could be the start of a very slippery slope. It’s not just the censorship of sensitive sites, but the fact that there are national mapping agencies and commercial companies worldwide who would like to see the competition from Google public domain maps and images curbed.

  4. justin.li says:

    Google Earth is not a illegal mapping website,our government will not ban it.

  5. “that make mistakes such as labeling Taiwan a ‘country’,”
    Actually, we don’t think it is a mistake. Taiwan is already an independent country in fact, they just can not face the truth.

  6. smokeonit says:

    china is showing more and more their true face!
    taiwan has the right to be called a sovereign country!
    china actively intimidates countries that give taiwan diplomatic status, unbelievable!

  7. Google has already consented to censorship in the past, as we all know. A good example for satellite photography is Israel, which the American law protects. It is forbidden to publish satellite imagery of Israel with a resolution better than 2 meters per pixel, if I’m not mistaken.

  8. It wouldn’t surprise me if China tries, however, will not stop the outside world. However, I would have thought that China would be more worried about the outside world seeing what’s in China rather than there own people.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.