Sunday, March 18, 2012

Panasonic disabling GPS in their cameras to please China

A couple of days ago, Panasonic unveiled some new cameras with GPS for geotagging photos. Nothing surprising there. What did get my attention was this footnote:

GPS may not work in China or in the border regions of countries neighboring China. Depending on the locations, it may not be possible to correctly receive the signals from GPS satellites. In such cases, positioning may not be possible, or a significant positioning discrepancy may occur. Information measured on this unit is only a rough indication. Do not use it for technical purposes.

Now I’ve been scratching my head ever since trying to figure out why this is. GPS works in China; after all, it is a GLOBAL positioning system. I haven’t heard anything leading me to believe that there is country-wide jamming. And as far as I know, the Chinese haven’t started levying tariffs on non-Beidou compatible products, like the Russians did to jumpstart the GLONASS market. Maps often have huge errors in China, but that wouldn’t give you imprecise coordinates. In a back and forth conversation on Twitter yesterday, Stefan Geens suggested that they may just be trying to get around the fact that mapping requires a license, and that perhaps the Chinese equate geotagging to mapping. This is the most plausible explanation I’ve heard, although at least one other brand does seem to work in China…

The GPS in my Lumix camera is disabled when in China. The camera gives an information message that it disables the GPS while in China. i was pleasantly surprised that Nikon does not disable the GPS in China but places some limitations on its use. The locations using the GPS in China seem to be off by about 500 ft to the west. In addition, the map function does not work in China and there are not location points for China in the database. (Via NikonUSA)

It turns out that geotagging is indeed illegal in China, and Nikon either isn’t in compliance or has found another way to deal with the situation (perhaps by generating an offset error). Clearly though, the Chinese haven’t banned the use of cell phones with GPS, which are quite capable of geotagging, though you may want to be careful where you go with them.

Finally, despite reaching out to Panasonic, I still don’t have a definitive answer on all this. It does seem clear that they are intentionally disabling the GPS in their cameras to satisfy the Chinese, but what’s posted on their website is deceptive and dumbed down:

Image via @ogleearth


About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. Woould it be plausible to place an invisible fence around China? What I mean is that perhaps the GPS receiver can be programmed to apply an error or even to simply stop reporting coordinates when the calculated coordinates fall inside China’s borders. A kind of coordinate based jamming?

    • I don’t see how that would be economically feasible, to do physical jamming countrywide. But getting manufacturers to tweak firmware is another thing entirely, so yes. And I’m betting that is what has happened.

  2. Pythagoras says:

    Chinese citizens are not allowed to geotag their photos? That is bizarre!

    The iPhone does this so I wonder how they feel about that.

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