Google compromises on Internet free speech in S. Korea

Posted on : 2009-03-30 11:06 KST Modified on : 2009-03-30 11:06 KST
Google Korea submits to government’s trend towards curbing Internet freedoms by implementing a “real name system”

Google, the world’s largest Internet company, has finally submitted to South Korea‘s unprecedented Internet regulations, including agreeing to implement a “real name” system in which any South Korean can post their contents only after they confirm their resident registration number.

The company plans to reorganize its site beginning April 1 so that subscribers in South Korea must confirm their real names before posting materials or replies on YouTube Korea. Concurrently April 1 is when the amendment to South Korea’s Act on the Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and User Protection will go into effect. It expands the scope of sites subject to the real name registration system to those that have at least 100,000 users per day.

Previously, those wishing to create accounts in order to use various Internet services operated by Google, including YouTube, were able to do so simply by giving an ID, password and an E-mail address. Google maintains a corporate mission of providing universal access to information for all users, and has thus far applied the same user registration information procedures throughout the world.

The head offices of Google have explored various means of bypassing the “real-name registration system,” arguing that freedom of expression should be experienced globally by all users, including proposing to shut down YouTube services in South Korea but to no avail. A representative of Google Korea says that South Korea “is the first country worldwide for which Google will be collecting real-name information that can be used to identify individuals.”

It is reported that the losses were projected to be too great if Google were to shut down YouTube services in South Korea. The government had promised Google 1.2 billion won in research and development support upon entering South Korea’s market, and more through its online advertising. “It’s difficult to ignore South Korean Internet regulations while we‘re engaged in offering search services as well as engaged in online advertising,” lamented a Google Korea official.

Google Korea Director Jeong-Kim Gyeong-suk said that the decision came after close consultation with Google’s U.S. headquarters. “Google respects users‘ rights and freedom of expression to the fullest, and at the same time it also respects local regulations,” Jeong-Kim explained.

Google Korea representatives have further indicated that they will create a way for foreigners living in South Korea to access YouTube using foreigner registration numbers. “Foreigners living in South Korea have a right to use YouTube too,” a representative said.

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