Google has launched a local search domain in Myanmar and opened partial access to its Google Play store in the country on the eve of Eric Schmidt’s visit, the first from a high-profile tech executive.
Schmidt, who made a much-publicized trip to North Korea in January, was last week confirmed to be visiting Myanmar, a country that was — until recently — a similarly isolated state, to encourage wider access to the Internet and the benefits of technology.
Preparations have already begun as the Internet giant launched a top level domain name — Google.com.mm — for local Internet users today. In addition, as noted by Android device owners in the country, it has also opened access to the Google Play app store, although it initially appears that content cannot be downloaded.
— david madden (@davidmadden) March 21, 2013
It remains to be seen if downloads will be enabled and other services opened in conjunction with Schmidt’s arrival. We’ve reached out to Google for clarification.
Schmidt — who spent Wednesday and Thursday in India, where he spoke at the Big Tent event arranged by Google and The Guardian — is expected to arrive in Myanmar on Friday. Secretary general of the Myanmar Computer Society, Zaw Min Oo, told Reuters that the Google Executive Chairman will give a speech at the Myanmar Information and Communication Technology Park in Yangon.
He is also slated to meet top business executives and politicians, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Google last week confirmed Schmidt’s visit will also see him “connect with local partners and Googlers who are working to improve the lives of many millions of people across the [Asian] region”. The company emphasized Schmidt visit was aimed at helping to increase Internet penetration, and bring information on the Web to wider audiences.
That mission statement bears similarities to the visit to North Korea. Despite being taken in a person capacity — and against the advice of the US government — Schmidt’s trip has already impacted the country in some way, after his comments led to North Korea’s mobile operator opening mobile data services for the first time. The wider goal of increased Web access is a more difficult one, however.
Myanmar recently opened up under the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, formerly its Prime Minister and a military commander. A series of political reforms saw media censorship relaxed, some political prisoners released and freer elections, but concerns still remain and the adoption of technology is far from widespread.
In an interview with The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger in India on Thursday, Schmidt explained his determination to help bring the benefits of the Web to untapped countries like North Korea and Myanmar.
“The Internet was built for everyone, including North Koreans. If there’s anyone who needs the Internet, it’s people who don’t have the ability to develop critical thinking skills…or understand the choice that they, as citizens, face…The quickest way to get economic growth [for these countries] is to open up the Internet,” he said.