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How Google mapped North Korea

Posting in Government

Google's mapping team has been to the far reaches of the world -- from the Amazon to the Great Barrier Reef to your street. But before this week North Korea looked like this on Google Maps:

"For a long time, one of the largest places with limited map data has been North Korea. But today we are changing that," Google said yesterday in a blog post. Now, it looks like this (infamous labor camps and all):

So how did the American company get access to this information, which the secretive North Korean government has guarded for so long? Lots of spies citizen cartographers. For years Google has been gradually gathering information to create a map of the country from citizen cartographers who use Google Map Maker, a service that allows anyone to add information to a map (after it's approved by Google). And yesterday the company decided they had enough information to make the map officially available to the public.

"Creating maps is a crucial first step towards helping people access more information about parts of the world that are unfamiliar to them," Google said in the same post. "While many people around the globe are fascinated with North Korea, these maps are especially important for the citizens of South Korea who have ancestral connections or still have family living there."

Few from North Korea will be able to use the maps because, as AFP points out, only a limited number of people have access to the highly-censored domestic Intranet. Fewer still, an estimated 1,000 of the "super elite," have access to the complete internet.

Google has used Map Maker to map 150 countries, including countries with government that haven't done a lot of mapping.

Images: Google

— By on January 28, 2013, 11:26 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure