Web search giant Google recently deleted the Korean address of the Dokdo islets on its map service. In the past, the map listed the address as "799-800 Ulleung," referring to the nearest habitable Korean island, but as of last Friday that address had disappeared.
Google also changed its policy of placing no name on the body of water separating Korea and Japan and now refers to it as the "Sea of Japan" or "East Sea," depending where the search is made.
Google dominates 80 percent of the global web search market. Japanese media reported that Google made the change following protests from Japan's Shimane Prefecture, which maintains a flimsy claim to Korea's easternmost islets that dates back to the colonial occupation.
The Japanese government even convened a Cabinet meeting on Oct. 3 and decided to call on Google to delete the Korean address for Dokdo. But rather than the central government making the request, it appears that Tokyo decided to let Shimane Prefecture do it.
But while the Japanese government got busy spreading its propaganda, the Korean government was completely blindsided until it was informed by Google on Oct. 18. If it had anticipated that Japan would exert some kind of pressure, it could have responded more effectively, for instance by asking North Gyeongsang Province, which administers the islets, to protest.
But the government cannot shoulder the entire blame. The Japanese government has joined forces with various rightwing groups to lobby not only the UN Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names and International Hydrographic Organization, but also foreign media and Internet companies regarding the naming of Dokdo and the East Sea. Korean activists should be more vigilant in monitoring any changes in different countries and agencies around the world, and Korean citizens can join by going online and promoting use of the proper names.
Everyone here needs to ask themselves what they could have done to prevent Google from making these changes.