Wednesday, March 13, 2013

China accuse Coca Cola of illegal GPS mapping

Last week Google's Android was singled out for dominating the Chinese mobile phone market. Now another American company has been accused of illegally gathering GPS data.

Illegal data gathering

The Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying and Mapping has said Coca Cola have been "illegally collecting classified information with handheld GPS equipment"

The US soft drinks manufacturer is not the only company under investigation. The Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying says it is considering 21 other cases, some said to have gathered data connected with military locations.


Coca-Cola says it has "co-operated fully" with the inquiry, adding that local bottling plants use "e-map and location-based customer logistics systems that are commercially available in China" to improve customer service and fuel efficiency. "These customer logistics systems are broadly used for commercial application across many industries in China and worldwide," the company said in a statement sent to the Financial Times.

Security concerns

China has long been guarded about mapping, both for national-security reasons and because of political sensitivity concerning disagreements with disputed territories. It has stepped up regulations as GPS technology has proliferated in handheld devices and mobile phones. There are many anomalies apparent when trying to use GPS devices in China. Most notably a GPS location shows as correct on Google Maps on a foreign mobile device when in the plain mapping mode but places the user several hundred metres away if viewed in satellite mode. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear, though much of China's street mapping data is provided to Google by AutoNavi a corporation of digital map content and navigation and location-based solutions (LBS) in China. Founded in 2001 AutoNavi is subsidiary company of Beijing Mapabc Co.,Ltd [北京图盟科技有限公司,]. AutoNavi also provides mapping data of China for the built-in Maps App in Apple iOS 6 [WSJ / CNBC / Register]

Bad timing

The recent allegations of illegal mapping do not come at a good time for the US soft drinks giant. Coca Cola recently saw sales in Europe and China fall in the last quarter of 2012 and warned the year ahead would be unpredictable.

The company's chief executive, Muhtar Kent, said in February that 2012 had been a tricky year and that the company expected the "volatility to extend through 2013" [BBC]. Being accused of illegal data gathering was probably not the sort of volatility the company was predicting.

There are only two countries in the world where Coca-Cola is not officially bought or sold. The soft drink is unavailable in both Cuba and North Korea due to trade embargoes with the US.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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