Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Google Tests The Limits Of Governments - Bars Korean Users From Uploading Videos And Leaving Comments

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 12, 2009

Google has found a loophole in South Korea's law that forces web sites with at least 100,000 users to verify the real names of users if they upload files or leave comments. Google has crippled its Korean version of YouTube (kr.youtube.com) preventing any uploads or comments and thus not requiring real-name verification.

It would have been the first time that Google would be collecting the names of Internet users.

The Hankyoreh newspaper reported:

Rachel Whetstone, vice president of Global Communications & Public Affairs at Google, offered in a statement posted on Google Korea's Website the reason why the company has refused to comply to the real-name system. In a statement titled, "Freedom of Expression on the Internet," Whetstone said, "Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the internet." Whetstone continued to say, "We concluded in the end that it is impossible to provide benefits to internet users while observing this country's law because the law does not fall in line with Google's principles."

The Korean Times reported that the government is looking into Google's actions:

"We need to further discuss the issue, but if they block the uploading and message board functions of the site, they may no longer be subject to the real-name rule," said an official from KCC's network policy bureau.

Google Korea's blog said that Korean users could upload videos to YouTube by "choosing a version of a different country."

Foremski's Take:

Google has shown it has a backbone. It's executives have often spoken about supporting free expression on the Internet yet then it has always caved in to government restrictions, saying that it seeks to abide by the domestic laws of each country.

However, on the Internet, where are a country's borders? Where does the jurisdiction of governments begin and end?

Google isn't risking much in Korea because it lags far behind domestic search companies. But it is an important stand because it puts other countries on notice that Google's principles take precendence over a "country's law."

That could be a red rag to a bull, especially in China. It'll be interesting to see if Google can get away with this tactic of complying with the letter of a country's law but able to take advantage of the porous ubiquity of the Internet to continue providing its services.

Please see:

The South Korean government has been battling critics on the Internet:

The Korea Times: YouTube User Needs Real-Name

KCC officials explain that such measures were inevitable to curb "cyber bullying" and reduce misinformation on the Internet. However, critics argue that the Lee Myung-bak government is getting overzealous in its efforts to monitor cyberspace, after being repeatedly attacked by bloggers, first over the controversial decision to resume U.S. beef imports, and more recently for its ineptitude in economic policies.

The watershed moment came in January when police arrested Park Dae-sung, a blogger known more widely as "Minerva" and a frequent critic of the government's economic polices, on charges of "deliberately" undermining public interest by distributing fraudulent information.

YouTube subject to Korea's real name system :

YouTube enjoyed countless hits during the presidential election last year when one of its users uploaded a video of an interview with lawmaker Park Young-sun, in which he discussed the BBK scandal; the video had been deleted from Korean portal sites. Recently, it is earning many hits thanks to a video of President Lee allegedly fanning Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has also been deleted from Korean Web sites.

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