[Analysis] Google chooses its credibility over profit in South Korea

Posted on : 2009-04-10 12:37 KST Modified on : 2009-04-10 12:37 KST
Google seems to have measured international attention, weighing losses and refusing to conform to S. Korea’s Internet regulations

Google’s position in relation to South Korea’s Internet regulations has been subject to attention from the international media. Since President Lee Myung-bak‘s inauguration, his government has tightened Internet regulations, including expanding the application of the real-name system that requires any South Korean who wishes to post content to confirm their real name and resident registration number.

If Google complies with South Korean government‘s real-name system, the world’s largest Internet company loses ground in justifying any objection to demands from other countries that are trying to impose comparable restrictive Internet regulations. Accordingly, its corporate mission also stands to lose credibility.

Google has given the matter plenty of consideration. Some analysts have suggested that it would be too burdensome for Google to challenge South Korea’s Internet policies because the government had promised 1.2 billion won (911,200 dollars) in research and development support, and the possibility of more through online advertising business.

In January, due to the traffic on Google’s YouTube Korea video-sharing Web site, it had fallen into a Web site category that was subject to the expanded definition of websites subject to the real-name system. While Google apparently had sufficient time to come to a decision, Google continued its original Web site operations for more than a week after it was formally required to comply with the real-name system on April 1. Google’s Korea unit had searched for compromise between its corporate mission of supporting the freedom of expression and what South Korea maintains is “user protection,” however, found it impossible. The company has since decided to remove some web site functions.

This decision comes with a considerable price for Google. Since January 2008, when Google launched the Korean-version of YouTube and various marketing campaigns, Google made clear its intention of making YouTube Korea a growth engine for Google Korea by naming Song Hye-gyo, a Korean actress, its international ambassador for public relations. It had also selected 8 participants from South Korea to participate in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which will have its first convening in New York on April 12-15. Analysts suggest these efforts to grow in South Korea will be fruitless if YouTube Korea removes its video clip upload function, a service that has popularized the video-sharing Web site.

This decision also comes at a considerable price for local users. YouTube is the world’s largest video-sharing Web site with 23.4 million daily visitors and has become a site for building and informing public opinion. For instance, Japanese Internet users have posted hundreds of clips claiming Japan’s territorial right to Dokdo and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has also opened a channel on YouTube supporting this same claim. From now on, Korean users in South Korea will be unable to engage in this forum.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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