Google's Schmidt pleads for removal of North Korean web barriers

Summary:Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has pleaded with North Korean officials to drop its Internet access restrictions, warning that isolation will continue if they do not do so.

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Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has pleaded with North Korean officials to drop Internet access restrictions for its citizens, warning that isolation and economic destruction will continue if ignored.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google's boss has warned the country that economic recovery can only take place if online, global commerce is allowed into the isolated country, where only a select few have access to technology the West takes for granted, including a mobile phone and the Internet. 

At a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, Schmidt told journalists: "As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world," adding that web restrictions would "make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear."

"They have to make it possible for people to use the internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It's their choice now, and in my view it's time now for them to start or they will remain behind."

Schmidt has recently completed the three-day trip to North Korea with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The tech giant's CEO previously called the mission a "a private visit to North Korea to talk about the free and open Internet," although some critics have suggested the visit took place in order to try and expand Google's reach -- even in such isolated places.

Richardson said that North Korea is "anxious" to improve relations with the United States, and that the trip was encouraging, adding that officials appeared to be open-minded to the idea of lifting the Internet ban and increasing access to mobile technology to the country's 24 million citizens.

However, when pressing officials about a detained American, the delegation -- organized by the Obama administration -- failed to win the citizen's release. The group were told that the detainee was in good health.

Although North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has called for the increased use of modern technology, accessing the web and using mobile phones is still restricted to a select few. The "Internet" is only accessible through state-ran operating system Red Star, which restricts anything that is not under North Korean control, including social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

In addition, users of Red Star have to tolerate pages coded to automatically increase the font size of “Kim Jong-Un” and former leaders to make them stand out. If you are a North Korean lucky enough to use Pyongyang's single cyber cafe, the date is not displayed as 2013, but 102 -- the number of years passed since the birth of a former leader, Kim Il-Sung.

This doesn't mean that ordinary citizens are completely cut off, however. Some have resorted to interesting methods to get their hands on new media -- including floating USB sticks across the border via balloons and smuggling Chinese phones into the country.

Topics: Censorship, China, Google

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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