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

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.

TOPICS: Censorship, Google, China
north korea google eric schmidt visit open free internet visit censorship

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, Google, China

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • no FB

    I would take that as a plus. About the only one though.
  • is the google leadership doing drugs ???

    schmidt is an idiot. nothing good will come out by opening the flood gates of information and technology to a regime. whats next? google sponsoring free american college education to north koreans so that they can learn to build more effecient rockets and weapons ????

    i think if google wants to worry about something, then it should worry about paying all the billions in taxes they are dodging from america by shuffling it through foreign banks !!!
    • I think we should trade...

      ...anything that can't be shot back at us (I felt the same way about trade with the Soviet Union back in the 1970s). But I'm not convinced that North Korea's leaders actually want better access to the Internet (for ordinary citizens anyway) or freer external trade; freeing up the society carries huge risks for any totalitarian regime, and North Korea's is among the most oppressive on the planet.

      Messrs. Richardson and Schmidt are no doubt well intentioned, but I doubt this little effort at private diplomacy will accomplish anything useful, as private diplomacy rarely does.
      John L. Ries
  • A Good Start

    Any dialog with North Korea, be it official or non-official, is better than none at all. This is a good start. The North could have easily said NO to the dialog, but they wanted it for some reason or other.
    Eric Schmidt makes a good will (technology) ambassador for the US.
  • For North Korea & Iran, what's the point?

    Hiding from the world is proof enough that the North Korean and Iranian regimes cannot withstand scrutiny even from their own people -- less they find out that the regimes have completely stifled economic development.
    Yet North Korea and Iran could just as easily have excelled economically as well as technologically -- for the greater good of their citizens.
    As things stand now, Iran has abandoned all paths to the country's Persian greatness, and daily North Korea has to face the glaring economic disparities with its sister state.
    Exactly how long will it take for these regimes to realize that in today's world a country's might is measured in economic terms?
    Indeed, even if the North Korean and Iranian regimes on their own somehow managed to amass Russia's military might, neither would be further ahead economically.
    So what's the point in trying?