PYONGYANG, North Korea — Students at North Korea’s premier university showed Google’s executive chairman Tuesday how they look for information online: They Google it.
But surfing the Internet that way is the privilege of only a very few in North Korea, whose authoritarian government imposes strict limits on access to the World Wide Web.
Google’s Eric Schmidt got a first look at North Korea’s limited Internet usage when an American delegation he and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are leading visited a computer lab at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. Other members of the delegation on the unusual four-day trip include Schmidt’s daughter, Sophie, and Jared Cohen, director of the Google Ideas think tank.
Schmidt, who is the highest-profile U.S. business executive to visit North Korea since leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago, has not spoken publicly about the reasons behind the journey to North Korea.
Richardson has called the trip a “private, humanitarian” mission by U.S. citizens and has sought to allay worries in Washington.
Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010.
While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access, most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.
Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.