China will investigate and prosecute Google next July if the search engine company does not acquire the necessary state licence to operate its Google Maps service in the country, according to the government.
The deadline comes after the country's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping introduced regulations earlier this year that require all companies providing online mapping services to apply with the bureau for approval. Google has yet to do so, the bureau said in an email, adding that after March 31 of next year, companies without the licence will be exposed to the public.
If the companies still do not have the licences by July 1, the bureau will punish them according to the law. The bureau, however, did not say what specific actions it would take against Google should it fail to acquire the licence on time.
Google is China's second largest search engine, with a 21.6 percent market share, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. But the company has already seen some of its popular web services blocked in China, including YouTube and Blogger.
"We are examining the regulations to understand their impact on our maps products in China," Google said, reiterating a past statement.
Domestic search engine Baidu, which holds a 73 percent market share, has already received approval for a mapping licence. Microsoft's joint venture in China is in the process of applying, the bureau said.
China introduced the new mapping regulations to prevent security leaks and to ensure all online maps would provide accurate data for its users. But in order to qualify for approval, companies must store all their mapping data in servers located in China.
The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping launched its own online mapping service last month. Called Map World, the site is still in its beta stages, but offers two-dimensional and three-dimensional maps. Analysts say it will be a way for the government to judge the accuracy of other online mapping services in the country.