Bukchang Gulag, a prison camp in North Korea, is now visible on Google Maps (Photo : Google Maps)
After years of simply displaying a blank space, Google Maps has released detailed views of roads, terrain, cities and even concentration camps inside the authoritarian nation of North Korea.
The software giant is also encouraging "citizen cartographers" to fill in any information they may have about the secretive country.
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Google's initiative came three weeks after its executive chairman, Eric E. Schmidt, visited Pyongyang, the capital, in a highly publicized yet contentious trip organized by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico," writes the New York Times.
"Mr. Schmidt, a proponent of Internet connectivity who likes to describe the Web as the enemy of despots, said he urged officials whom he met in Pyongyang to let more North Koreans use the Internet."
Any Google Maps user around the world can now pinpoint locations in North Korea, like some of the infamous gulags -- prison camps where unfortunate North Koreans who have angered the regime are forced to work at hard labor their entire lives. Some people are even born, grow old and die in the camps.
While Google Maps has been blind to North Korea until now, Google Earth, which relies on satellite data, has been peeking into the country for years, and amateur activists rely on the program to infer much about what goes on within its borders.
Amateur cartographers have even been able to pinpoint what they think is a new gulag, recently built, in satellite photos.
Of course, it is almost impossible to verify the map, as internet access is heavily restricted in North Korea, so the resource is most useful to activists trying to help from the outside.
"The map is unlikely to have an immediate influence in the North, where Internet use is restricted to all but a handful of elites," writes the Washington Post. "But it could prove beneficial for outsider analysts and scholars, providing an easy-to-access record about North Korea's provinces, roads, landmarks, as well as hints about its many unseen horrors."