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Coca Cola in the dock over illegal China GPS map claims

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The perils of doing business in China were highlighted again recently after it was revealed that Coca Cola is under investigation following allegations it illegally mapped parts of Yunnan province.

The FT translated a notice on a local government web site in the region apparently accusing the fizzy drinks giant of "illegally collecting classified information with handheld GPS equipment".

Coca Cola is not the only company under investigation: the Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying is considering 21 cases. But the company has been lumped in with cases concerning mapping of military bases, which ups the ante a tad.

A statement from the drinks-maker sent to the paper said it was co-operating fully with the investigation and that location-based mapping and logistics kit used at its local bottling plants are only being used to improve fuel efficiency and customer service.

"These customer logistics systems are broadly used for commercial application across many industries in China and worldwide," it continued.

Multi-national companies operating in China using similar mapping tools will be hoping the investigation does not signify the beginning of a crackdown by local authorities, as that GPS tools have become all-but indispensable to sophisticated logistics operations.

The government is certainly signalling a harder line on mapping regulations, with proposals released in September last year including a requirement for all commercial map service providers to locate their data centres inside the country.

The aim is that tighter regulation will boost national security by reducing the likelihood of sensitive geographical information ending up in the wrong hands. China is also planning to increase fines for providers which fail to include its “full territory” when compiling maps, as sometimes happens when cartographers decide disputed lands such as the Diaoyu Islands don't belong in Chinese territory.

Tensions regarding national security are obviously pretty high in the region at the moment with allegations of online spying being thrown back and forth with increasing regularity by the US and China.

Ironically enough, Coca Cola was allegedly one of those US companies hit by Chinese hackers in a long-term APT-style attack,a report claimed last year. ®

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