Google's executive chairman is preparing to travel to one of the last frontiers of cyberspace: North Korea.
Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, sources told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The sources, two people familiar with the group's plans, asked not to be named because the visit had not been made public.
The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world's largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet.
North Korea is in the midst of what leader Kim Jong Un called a modern-day “industrial revolution'' in a New Year's Day speech to the nation Monday. He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory.
However, giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the North's strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, very few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.
It's highly unlikely Google will push to launch a business venture in North Korea, said Victor Cha, a Korea expert who was a senior Asia specialist in the administration of President George W. Bush.
“Perhaps the most intriguing part of this trip is simply the idea of it,'' said Cha, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. Kim Jong Un "clearly has a penchant for the modern account rements of life. If Google is the first small step in piercing the information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very interesting development.''
It was not immediately clear who Schmidt and Richardson expect to meet in North Korea, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with the United States. North Korea has almost no business with companies in the U.S., which has banned the import of North Korean-made goods.
North Korea likely is more interested in Google products such as email, maps and other content, said Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University in South Korea.
“North Korea has made a lot of investment in science and technology, not just for military purpose but also for the industry and practical reasons,'' Lim said, predicting that Pyongyang