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Google improves maps of secretive North Korea, but you can forget Street View

When it comes to mapping the world, it’s not surprising that Google finds some places more challenging than others. Take North Korea, for example. It’s one of the most secretive states on the planet, with foreign visitors escorted everywhere they go and little concrete information ever emerging about precisely what’s happening within its tightly controlled borders. No wonder Google can’t get one of its Street View cars in there.

Satellite images are all well and good, but labeling points of interest and roads isn’t so easy when it comes to a country like North Korea, a nation founded shortly after the end of WWII when the Korean peninsula was divided into two separate states.

Thanks to a community of keen citizen cartographers, however, Google is rolling out some significant improvements to its North Korea maps, the company said Monday.

Working with Google Map Maker, a feature which allows anyone with an interest in cartography to add to and update maps of familiar places, a group of enthusiasts has been busy adding data to maps of North Korea. However, the company didn’t say exactly who updated the maps, or where the mappers are located.

“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,” Jayanth Mysore, senior product manager of Google Map Maker, wrote in a blog post.

He added, “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.”

‘Before’ and ‘after’ images in Mysore’s blog post give a clear indication of just how much work has gone into the refreshed North Korea map, with the virtually bare ‘before’ image showing the area around the capital city of Pyongyang now updated with a network of roads and road names.

This isn’t the first time the Mountain View company and North Korea have turned up in the news together. Last week it was reported that a blogger using Google Earth had discovered what appeared to be further evidence of the existence of prison camps that are believed to hold as many as 200,000 people considered hostile to the country’s regime.

And just a couple of weeks ago, Google chairman Eric Schmidt visited the nation, reportedly as part of a humanitarian mission with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.

At the end of his four-day visit, Schmidt urged the regime to give its people freedom to use the Internet or face continuing problems with its dire economy.

“As the world is becoming increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth,” he said at the time.

In a country of 25 million people, it’s believed only a select few have access to the Internet.

[Image: Aleksander Mijatovic / Shutterstock]

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