Planet GOOG

Eric Schmidt: Google Chairman by Day, Super-Secret N. Korean Cartographer By Night?

That'll teach them to bug a Googler's hotel room.
NK before after

Google Maps entry for North Korea, before and after

Shortly after Google Chairman Eric Schmidt returned from his much-ballyhooed trip to North Korea, his daughter and traveling companion Sophie published an extended diary of the adventure, revealing, among other things, that her father’s response to staying in a bugged hotel room was simply to leave his door opened wide.

At the time, that sounded like so much useless indignation, but—ho ho!—may actually have represented an effective bit of trade craft.

For while Mr. Schmidt was touring the country’s universities, delivering stern warnings on the danger of North Korea’s virtual isolation and providing a platform for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s perpetual cravat, Google’s engineers were apparently working on a little Pyongyang surprise.

Not two weeks after Mr. Schmidt and entourage returned home from North Korea, Google unveiled a highly detailed map of the isolated nation, labeling everything from “Pyongyang’s subway stops to the country’s several city-sized gulags, as well as its monuments, hotels, hospitals and department stores.”

For its part, Google is playing it close to the vest, declaring in a blog post yesterday that its new North Korean map was the result of years-long toil by volunteer cartographers:

To build this map, a community of citizen cartographers came together in Google Map Maker to make their contributions such as adding road names and points of interest. This effort has been active in Map Maker for a few years and today the new map of North Korea is ready and now available on Google Maps.

And the Washington Post reports that much of the new information was publicly available on the Internet.

Still, we can’t help reading into the timing of the map’s release, nor imagining Mr. Schmidt pulling an updated Ferris Bueller on North Korean officials, rigging a snoring mechanical body double in his “luxury socialist guesthouse,” meanwhile sleuthing around the Pyongyang night, notating restaurants, public transportation hubs and his favorite monuments to the various Kim Jongs.

 

Follow Patrick Clark on Twitter or via RSS. pclark@observer.com