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Don’t call it a comeback: Google says ‘no changes’ to mapping service in China

Google, operator of the world’s largest internet search service, denies a report that said its mapping platform is available on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 2:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 8:47pm

Google has denied bringing back its mapping service to China, following a report on Tuesday that the US internet search giant is making it available again in the world’s second-largest economy.

“There have been no changes to Google Maps in China,” a Google representative said in an emailed statement.

Japan’s Nikkei earlier reported that Google had set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website for the first time in eight years and introduced a map application for Chinese iPhone users.

It said that app is powered by Chinese digital mapping and navigation provider AutoNavi, a subsidiary of e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding.

Google, however, stated that the Google Maps browser has been available in China for many years, while there is no Maps application offered in the country.

“Maps has been accessible on desktop for years, but does not have an official presence in Android or iOS app stores in China,” said Google Spokesman Taj Meadows.

China vs Google, Facebook and other US internet giants: a lesson in internet oversight for the West

Citing government policies, AutoNavi said in a statement that it has no plans to collaborate with Google. Parent Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

The US company, a subsidiary of multinational conglomerate Alphabet, has mostly quit China since 2010 over its refusal to censor content deemed unacceptable by the government.

Google’s China domain, Google.cn, redirects traffic to its Hong Kong site, Google.com.hk. All other Google-related services, including the Android app store Google Play, cannot be accessed in China without the use of virtual private networks.

Consumers in China can only use Google’s mapping service on smartphone and tablet browsers, but not through the Android or Apple iOS mobile apps.

Google is finding a way around China’s Great Firewall

Still, Google has tried to re-enter the China market, where both its main search platform and popular video-sharing service YouTube are blocked.

Google recently led a US$120 million series D investment in Chushou, an online e-sports platform that lets users live-stream their mobile games. Google said in a statement that it will help the Chinese company expand its services and grow its base of overseas viewers.

“With e-sports becoming a high-potential industry in China, Google sees an opportunity” to enter a market segment that is less politically sensitive, said IDC China managing director Kitty Fok.

The US technology company made its first mainland investment in Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Mobvoi in 2015, taking a minority stake in the firm.

Maps has been accessible on desktop for years, but does not have an official presence in Android or iOS app stores in China.
Taj Meadows, Google spokesman

In February last year, media reported that Google was in talks with NetEase, China’s second-largest operator of online games, to form a venture to launch Google’s app store in China.

In December last year, parent Alphabet said it had opened a Google AI China Centre in Beijing, as it seeks to harness China’s growing artificial intelligence talent pool.

“Although Google doesn’t run its key search business directly in China, it still … has an interest in the Chinese market,” said Wang Xiaofeng, a senior analyst at market research firm Forrester.