Google’s Schmidt and his daughter open up about North Korea’s ‘internet access’

21 Jan 2013

Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt

Internet search giant Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has opened up about his recent trip to Pyongyang, North Korea. His daughter, Sophie, who accompanied him on the trip, also revealed her thoughts about their visit in a blog post.

On his Google+ page, Schmidt wrote that North Korea’s opting to isolate itself from the global internet is going to “make it harder for them to catch up economically.”

This reflects statements he made at a press conference in Bejing, China, after visiting North Korea, where he said North Korea has to make it possible for people to use the internet.

“It’s North Korea’s choice now, and in my view it’s time now for them to start or they will remain behind,” he had said.

In his post on Google+, Schmidt added that while internet access is possible for North Korean government officials and the military, and while there is a private intranet set up for universities, the general public does not have access to the internet unless someone monitors them.

In her blog post, Sophie also wrote about such internet access.

“North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real internet,” she wrote. “Our understanding is that some university students have access to this.”

Everything that is accessible is accessible only in special tiers, she added.

“Their mobile network, Koryolink, has between 1-2m subscribers. No data service, but international calls were possible on the phones we rented. Realistically, even basic service is prohibitively expensive, much like every other consumption goods (fuel, cars, etc.). The officials we interacted with, and a fair number of people we saw in Pyongyang, had mobiles (but not smartphones).”

Sophie also described the visit to North Korea as having been “very, very strange” and the country as being “very, very cold”.

She wrote that the delegation left their phones and laptops behind in China, as they had been warned they would be confiscated in North Korea “and probably infected with lord knows what malware”.

“We were told well ahead of time to assume that everything was bugged: phones, cars, rooms, meetings, restaurants and who knows what else.”

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic