The State of the Web in South Korea

As anyone who’s lived in Korea for even a short time is probably aware, this country is on the bleeding-edge of technology. They have cell phones, computers, LCD and HD TVs galore and as the video on this website mentions, Korea has become a virtual testbed for the newest and latest technologies. This article from the JoongAng Daily gives a few notable numbers:

Korea is one of the world’s most wired nations, with more than two-thirds of homes connected to high-speed Internet and more than nine out of 10 people owning a mobile phone.

However, for all its technological glitter, the state of South Korea’s Internet is anything but golden.

Take, for example, this recently published article that talks about how government websites don’t work with the new Internet Explorer 8.  This is due to Korea’s over-dependence on Active X controls and Internet Explorer.  As this article from “Mozilla in Asia” mentions:

Active X controls were and continue to be a significant vector of viruses and malware because Microsoft originally architected Active X to run by default instead of with a user action. Maliciously programmed websites would be able to automatically install software on users’ computers just by visiting a web page in IE 6. In IE 7 and in Vista, Microsoft has re-architected Active X controls in such a way to make them “more safe” by requiring a user action for the control to run.

Since the release of Internet Explorer 7, and now with the release of Internet Explorer 8 (and additionally with the release of the Vista OS) Microsoft has been working to fill in the “holes” that IE6 opened up by allowing all ActiveX controls to run by default.  Apparently, as the rest of the world is working to close the security vulnerabilities, Korea is content (and encouraging) the security vulnerabilities to remain open.  The Korean Public Procurement Service (PPS) on March 20 advised people “to use Internet Explorer 6 or 7 because the ActiveX function can‘t be used at Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8.” (source)

Apparently, Vista users in Korea have similar problems as ActiveX will not run on everything by default.  I also faced difficulties at work because ActiveX is required for me to grade my students’ English homework, but after I upgraded to IE7, it wouldn’t download their work because the ActiveX was disabled.  I had to go in and re-enable all my ActiveX optionsThis article from “Web 2.0 Asia” asks:

Are you a Korean web user? You might have 100+ Active X’s installed.  Channy Yun, a Korean web veteran at Daum, recently discovered he has a 100 Active X’s installed on his PC.

It goes on to say:

Well, if a wary web expert has 100 Active X’s installed, guess how many average users would have.

Many Korean web sites, ranging from internet banking sites to TV livecasting sites, mandate users to install Active X components (a small bit of extension program used by Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser) to use the service. Which means if you are a Firefox user in Korea, there are many websites that are quite integral to your life that you simply can’t use.

Remember my gripe against Internet Explorer?  Now I have some better concrete information about why things are the way they are in Korea.  But it still doesn’t make it any easier to understand.  How could a country that looks so technologically advanced on the outside be letting itself rot away from the inside out?

Korea’s near total reliance on Internet Explorer (and older versions at that) will prove to be its Internet undoing.  As hardware, software, and peripherals are constantly being updated, and functionality (and third-party browsers) are being added to mobile devices for web browsing and Internet connectivity, Korea will soon experience much larger problems than just ActiveX mishaps.  And already one group has taken it upon themselves to file a lawsuit against the government to promote better accessibility to the Korean web for users of non-IE browsers (and non-Microsoft OSes).

I personally own a Mac, and run anything BUT IE whenever I can.  However, living in Korea has forced me to rely on Internet Explorer for certain things.  Online banking, online purchases, my work, and even tourist eBooks often cannot be fully utilized unless viewed in Internet Explorer.  And that says nothing for the ugly source code I’ve seen on a number of top Korean websites.

But what about you?

What do you think of the state of the Internet in Korea? If you’re a teacher, traveler, or Korean national, do you love or hate Korea’s dependence on IE?  What problems have you encountered in your time on Korean websites? Let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.

Further Reading

Govt. websites don’t work with IE8

MS Web Browser Monopoly Weakens

Is the Enemy of my Enemy my friend?

The Cost of Monoculture

98.7% IE in South Korea

Web 2.0 Asia: ActiveX

Open Web Korea


5 Responses to “The State of the Web in South Korea”

  1. Bill Says:

    Hey Aaron, I really enjoyed this article. You did a great job of citing and linking sources and stats. I agree that Korea’s heavy dependence on IE is a problem, perhaps even a big problem for the country.

    It was only about four years ago that I switched to Firefox, and have been smiling a lot more when surfing the web. More recently, Google’s chrome has been my main browser of choice. I use it mainly for sites that have media, which still lags in firefox.

    However, as they say, you never know what you’ve got till it’s gone. That’s my experience with internet connection speed. I am so bummed that the US seems so backward in it’s reliance on DSL. Downloads are painfully slow, and connections are 50/50 hit-or-miss. It often takes several tries before logging on to my homepage. This is especially true if several computers are sharing the same bandwidth. Oh, how I miss my hi-speed cable internet in Korea, and the ability to find a hotspot virtually anywhere.

  2. jekkilekki Says:

    Agreed that Korea’s Internet speed is awesome.

    Also agreed that Google Chrome is a super-speedy browser. I use it as well any time I need something quick. The fact that I can just type my search query in to the URL address bar is awesome and it Google searches from there. Also, the simple, minimal design of the application itself is also nice.

  3. Bill Says:

    Ironically, Chrome also has its own issues. I run into problems viewing sites with Active X, and sometimes even Java. However, as far as viewing media is awesome.

  4. Big Brother Internet Laws in Korea « Aaron Snowberger’s Home Abroad Says:

    […] this mean for the future of the Internet as we know it? (Of course, if you’ve read some of my other posts, you may already be aware that Korea may not be the most up-to-date with their Internet in the […]

  5. Thailand Sims Says:

    Personally if I am travelling for more than a week in a country i find it easier to just buy a local sim card to use whilst in the country, most places they are inexpensive and it saves on high costs.

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