Posted by Tom Foremski - April 2, 2009
[Updated April 5: Maybe Google has a backbone after all. Korean newspapers had reported that Google had imposed the real-name law but Google Korea tells me that's not the case and it is still examining the law.]
On April 1 Google was required by law to ban South Korean users from posting videos or leaving comments on YouTube unless they use real names. The law states that South Korean web sites with at least 100,000 daily visitors must force users to register with verifiable real names. It would be the first time for Google to implement such a system, in any of its operations around the world.
Lois Kim, head of corporate communications at Google Korea told SVW: "We have not implemented a so-called 'real name verification'. It is simple for you to check! - try visiting YouTube site(kr.youtube.com) and you will know. We have examined the law and not decided anything."
Google's corporate philosophy states: "...we have a responsibility to protect your privacy and security." And its top executives and representatives have often spoken about Google's commitment to privacy and free speech on the Internet.
Google is far from being a market leader in Korea. Ms Kim said: "We, at Google do not disclose the specific market share data but you should check the marketshare directly from a third party for the reliable sources. I can say that YouTube, launched just one year ago is very successful in Korea in terms of both marketshare and mindshare."
Google wouldn't have much to lose if it stood up to the Korean government. It's YouTube business isn't profitable, so no shareholders would be hurt. It could argue that its servers aren't housed in South Korea and therefore it doesn't have to comply with the local law.
It would be a bold statement and it would focus world attention on the South Korean government and its efforts to curb its citizens from using the Internet to criticize politicians. A bold stand from Google might even discourage other governments from following with similar laws.
More importantly, it would show that Google has a backbone and will stand up to defend its own principles and the rights of Internet users around the world.
However, maybe Google is too close to the Korean government? Chris Backe who blogs on Chris in South Korea points out:
The government had promised Google 1.2 billion won [about $892,000 USD] in research and development support upon entering South Korea's market
I hope Google's principles cannot be bought so cheaply. Otherwise other governments should make a note.
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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 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.
Google, which owns YouTube, hasn't been very successful in Korea. That January KT article I just sited said Google and Yahoo each have less than 5% of the market-share of internet searches.
The Korea Times: Concerns Mount Over Internet Witch Hunt
...The Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office has sought an arrest warrant for a 30-year-old man identified as Park, who confessed of being the real person behind famed Internet pundit, "Minerva," on charges of spreading "groundless" allegations about the country's ailing economy.
Law enforcement officers are eager to punish Park, who they’ve searched for months, claiming that he deliberately created confusion in financial markets by distorting facts.
However, critics argue that Park's detainment is the latest example of the government's inability to handle online criticism properly, with authorities going overboard in efforts to abate the rabble in cyberspace.
"It's difficult to tell whether we are living in a police state or democracy, as Internet users have been put under a gag order," said Jin Jung-kwon, Chungang University professor and popular political columnist...
...The Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country’s broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, is looking to rewrite media law to have Internet sites face the same restrictions as news organizations, making them subject to libel suits and such.
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Perhaps, in South Korea they will likely change the name from Youtube to Whotube.