Google executive Eric Schmidt and former Governor Bill Richardson have made a private trip to North Korea, urging humane treatment for an imprisoned US citizen and a more open society. US officials, meanwhile, have expressed concern, which the State Department says is poorly timed.
Feb 22, 2013
North Korea to switch on 3G internet access for foreigners within a week
A month after North Korea started allowing foreign tourists to use cellphones within its borders, the country has given the go-ahead to a move with far broader implications: for the first time, it will enable access to the internet via mobile data. The 3G network won't be available to ordinary North Korean citizens, but the AP reports carrier Koryolink informed foreign residents that the service will be offered no later than March 1st.Read Article >
Following his recent visit to the country, Google chairman Eric Schmidt noted that it would be "very easy" for North Korea to offer mobile internet access to its citizens. It's unclear what restrictions will be placed on the service, and the country is unlikely to grant North Koreans wide access to the global internet anytime soon — the few cellphone owners are limited to messaging services and subscriptions to the state newspaper — but the move is an unprecedented step nonetheless.
Jan 29, 2013
Google publishing more detailed North Korea maps with crowdsourced data
North Korea has always been one of the few blind spots in Google Maps' efforts to detail the world, but the situation is set to get a little better. Google has announced that it will be leveraging input from users of its Map Maker software to publish more comprehensive maps of the secretive state. The update hasn't been pushed live yet, but a released image shows roads and other cartographical information added to the area around the capital of Pyongyang, which currently appears as a blank geographical expanse.Read Article >
Of course, as Google chairman Eric Schmidt made clear during his recent trip to the country, the vast majority of North Korean citizens won't be able to access these maps themselves, with internet access restricted to all but an elite few. But as Google notes in a blog entry, the map data is particularly important for South Korean citizens with family in the North or historical connections to the region, as well as more general observers from around the world.
Jan 21, 2013
North Korea now letting tourists use cellphones for international calls
North Korea doesn't allow many visitors inside its secretive borders, and those that can enter have been made to hand over their cellphones — until now. A technician with Koryolink, the country's only 3G mobile carrier, told Xinhua that tourists are now able to make international calls with WCDMA phones if they buy a €50 ($67) SIM card and register their handset's IMEI number at North Korean customs. Additionally, the Associated Press reports that Koryolink is operating a rental booth at Pyongyang airport. However, there's a catch: the SIM cards won't offer mobile internet access, and can't make local calls.Read Article >
Jan 20, 2013
Eric Schmidt's daughter reports on creepy North Korea trip, says the country is like 'The Truman Show'
After returning from a private mission to North Korea, Eric Schmidt says he sternly warned North Korean officials that their country risks falling further behind economically without a connection to the global internet, but didn't elaborate much further on the trip. Schmidt's daughter Sophie was also with the delegation, and in a lengthy Google Sites post titled "It might not get weirder than this," she describes a trip full of "highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments." Sophie Schmidt writes that the North Koreans are "hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it," and says the best description the delegation could come up with is that "it's like The Truman Show, at country scale."Read Article >
Schmidt says her father invited her to accompany the private delegation, which included former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, and the group's mission was originally unclear — Reuters reported that plans could have included an attempt to negotiate for the release of an imprisoned American citizen. While Schmidt's report doesn't confirm or deny that claim, it does offer a number of colorful details about her experience in the secretive nation. Some are based on facts already known; for example, an AP report described the delegation's visit to a college computer lab. But Schmidt adds color to the encounter; she depicts a creepy atmosphere at the Kim Il Sung University e-Library (or as she calls it, the "e-Potemkin Village"), with multiple floors of identically manned desks of people doing practically nothing. "A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared," she writes. "More disturbing: when our group walked in — a noisy bunch, with media in tow — not one of them looked up from their desks. Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines."
Jan 14, 2013
Eric Schmidt's trip helped 'make the case for the virtues of the internet' in North Korea
When Eric Schmidt announced his plans to go to North Korea, we were a little confused. Google's current chairman and former CEO is a fervent proponent of a free and open internet, while North Korea is famously one of the world's least-connected countries. After the trip's conclusion, The New Yorker's Evan Osnos sat down with John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea and a member of Schmidt's delegation to North Korea, to talk about what Schmidt and his compatriots saw and did. Delury describes a slowly modernizing North Korea, a nation aware that its self-created isolation is causing problems:Read Article >
Whether Schmidt's declaration that the North Korean government must "make it possible for people to use the internet" will fall on willing ears remains unknown, but there are some encouraging signs that the days of only hundreds of people in the nation having internet access may be coming to a close.
Jan 10, 2013
Eric Schmidt says North Korea must allow internet access or 'remain behind'
Eric Schmidt has continued pushing for internet access in North Korea during his trip to the region, where many citizens are restricted to a tightly controlled domestic intranet service, Bloomberg reports. "As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world," Schmidt told reporters after visiting the North Korean capital. "The government has to do something — they have to make it possible for people to use the internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It is time now for them to start, or they will remain behind."Read Article >
Schmidt continued on to say that North Korea's most popular cellphone network — which has about one million phones — could easily be reconfigured to allow subscribers access to the internet. "It would be very easy for them to turn that on." Schmidt has been very clear that his visit is "not a Google trip," and while his private discussions in the country will likely remain so, the public face of his trip so far has been limited to promoting a free internet for North Korean citizens. While Schmidt's efforts in Korea were focused on promoting internet access, he was accompanied by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who was trying to secure the release of a detained American tourist. Unfortunately, Reuters reports that Richardson was unable to meet with the tourist and left the country without ensuring his release from captivity.
Jan 9, 2013
Eric Schmidt and Bill Richardson pushing for more cellphone and internet access in North Korea
Google's Eric Schmidt, former governor Bill Richardson, and the other members of a humanitarian trip to North Korea are pushing a message of online freedom, at least within the strict confines of the current regime. According to the Associated Press, Richardson says his group has given a message to "a variety of foreign policy officials, scientists," and government officials: "The citizens of the DPRK [North Korea] will be better off with more cellphones and an active internet." North Korea has relaxed its hold on technology slightly in recent years, leading to a jump in cellphone ownership and even a domestic Android tablet, but internet access is very strictly controlled (most of North Korea's few computer users can only access a domestic intranet) and consumer electronics generally are limited to a select few.Read Article >
Richardson didn't detail exactly what he and Schmidt said or how their comments were received, either regarding the internet or the other goals of the trip: urging humane treatment of an imprisoned American citizen and a halt to missile and nuclear tests. Schmidt, meanwhile, has been clear that despite his interest in North Korean technological development, this is "not a Google trip."
Jan 8, 2013
Eric Schmidt visits a college computer lab during his first day in North Korea
The Associated Press today released new photos and video of Google chairman Eric Schmidt's controversial trip to North Korea. Schmidt, who arrived in Pyongyang yesterday with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, spent his first day visiting a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University, where students were busily surfing the internet from HP desktops. North Korea has one of the most restrictive internet policies in the world, but librarians at the Pyongyang-based university say students there have had access to the web ever since the lab opened in April 2010. Most students, however, are instructed to use the internet for educational purposes only, and the government continues to closely monitor online activity.Read Article >
Schmidt and Google executive Jared Cohen chatted with university students during their tour of the lab, with some demonstrating their ability to search and find information on Google, Wikipedia and university sites. Only a select few in North Korea have full access to the web, while the vast majority are restricted to a government-run intranet that filters out everything except for select news sites and curated content.
Jan 7, 2013
Is Eric Schmidt in North Korea to negotiate a hostage release?
Google chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson arrived in North Korea today, as part of a private and controversial mission to the isolated country. The precise nature of the trip has thus far remained a mystery, but according to Reuters, the mission will include an attempt to negotiate for the release of an imprisoned American.Read Article >
"We are going to ask about the American who's been detained," Richardson confirmed. "A humanitarian private visit." The American in question, Kenneth Bae, is a Korean-American tour guide who was detained in November, after crossing the border into North Korea with five other tourists. In an interview with CBS News last week, the former governor said Bae's family had personally contacted him about their son, and that he would raise the issue during the trip.
Jan 6, 2013
Eric Schmidt's North Korea trip confirmed for next week
Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has confirmed that he will be traveling to North Korea with Google chairman Eric Schmidt next week. The trip is said to be a "humanitarian mission" and will also include Google Ideas director Jared Cohen and Richardson's advisor Dr. KA Namkung.Read Article >
Reports of Schmidt's trip surfaced last week, and the US State Department expressed its concerns soon after, citing political sensitivities relating to North Korea's recent satellite launch. It's not clear what exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be doing during their time in the country, but media won't be permitted on the trip; Richardson will instead offer a briefing at Beijing Airport on January 10th.
Jan 3, 2013
US State Department doesn't want Eric Schmidt to visit North Korea right now
The US State Department today weighed in on Eric Schmidt's plans to visit North Korea, criticizing the Google chairman's decision to travel at such a politically sensitive time. "We don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, citing heightened tensions arising from North Korea's successful long-range rocket launch earlier this month.Read Article >
Both Schmidt and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson are planning to visit the country as early as this month, though the details of their itinerary remain unclear. Despite the State Department's disapproval, it appears that Schmidt and Richardson will continue with their visit as planned, with Nuland telling reporters that both men were well aware of the government's concerns.
Jan 2, 2013
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt making private trip to North Korea
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is planning a visit to North Korea that could occur as early as this month, reports the Associated Press. Citing two sources familiar with the executive's itinerary, the AP reveals that Schmidt will be making the trip with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Exactly who the pair will be meeting with or what they hope to accomplish with the excursion remains unclear, however. North Korea notoriously enforces some of the harshest internet censorship policies in the world.Read Article >
Yet despite those debilitating policies, the country's technology sector has seen a jump in activity over recent years. North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un recently cited the importance of science and technology in improving the economic outlook facing his people during a state address. “The industrial revolution in the new century is, in essence, a scientific and technological revolution, and breaking through the cutting edge is a shortcut to the building of an economic giant,” he said. For his part, Schmidt's long tenure as a top-level executive at Google has seen him become a leading voice on the subject of emerging technologies and the breakthroughs future innovations could offer to civilizations across the globe.