The Republic of Korea’s Schoolyard Scuffle with Google

koreavsgoogleThe Republic of Korea and Google enter the schoolyard of the Internet, with good intentions to play nice together.  Somewhere along the line, the ROK gets burned by a bully and decides it needs stronger rules before continuing play.   Google on the other hand, liked things the way they were going, and doesn’t want to change things mid-game, (plus, it might give them an advantage to play the game with a few “features” left out).  The ROK’s friends start to think he’s too demanding, and side with the “easy-going” Google.  The ROK feels slighted and decides to “take out Google’s kneecaps” or at least spread ugly information about him so that the rest of his friends don’t want to play with him any more.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new Internet “Cyber Slander” law in Korea that requires content uploaders (and comment-makers) to websites receiving more than 100,000 hits per day to enter their legal name and citizen (or foreigner) registration number as it appears on their government issued ID.  Perhaps you’ve also heard how Google has decided to effectively “side-step” this new law for its users.

In Korea and abroad, there’s been a lot of talk about the implications of these actions -> on both sides.  From the “removal of the freedom of speech” in Korea and the accusation of creating an “Internet police state,” to Google’s decision to stand by “its principles over the law of a country” in perhaps a sneaky bid to “increase its market-share” in Korea where it enjoys only 5% of the market.  Now, comes the news that the Korean government is going to begin an investigation into the legality of Google and its activities in Korea.

What’s most interesting to note about the whole thing are some of the quotes that come out of it all.  Here are a few of the most interesting ones:

After Google issued an official raspberry to South Korea – by sidestepping its “real name” law by simply disabling comments and uploads – the Korean government has taken to pounding the table and turning beet red. – Koman ZDNet

It’s impressive that Google has chosen its principles over the law of a country. I’d love to see that in other countries, such as China…It’s also impressive as a possible business strategy. Google has a very low share of the South Korean Internet market, as low as 5 per cent by some estimates. And it’s much larger Korean competitors cannot avoid the law as easily as Google. – Formenski- ZDNet

“I guess the government’s talk about being `business-friendly’ doesn’t include Internet companies,” said an employee from a major Internet company who didn’t want to be named.
“And when they say that we should keep all log-on records and fully monitor the copyright violations for the millions of files that come up everyday, you have to wonder whether they know what they’re talking about. There is no possible way we can afford the cost.”- Korea Times

An official at the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), who wished to remain nameless, said Thursday that the KCC was “in an uproar” over Google’s April 9 decision. “The people higher up said that they could not just leave Google alone and told us to find something to punish them with, so the related team is researching possible illegalities,” the official said. – The Hankyoreh

Choi See-joong, chairman of KCC, expressed strong dissatisfaction with Google…“They are speaking as though Korea is a backwards Internet nation that is intensifying its Internet censorship. Why are you just standing around doing nothing?” Choi responded that plans were underway to “send a message of severe dismay to Google about their terribly commercial approach with which it has tried to deceive people by a transparent guile.” He also said that he planned to meet with the head of Google Korea to determine the company’s true motives, and that the KCC was currently conducting legality investigations. – The Hankyoreh

Schoolyard Scuffle?

Honestly, the whole thing sounds like a schoolyard scuffle to me, and rather silly at that.  The Hankyoreh points out, “the government and Google ‘have come face-to-face in a situation where there are no points of agreement.'”

Is this the point where we place bets on the stronger competitor?

“Jeon added, ‘Since Google does not have a large share of the South Korean market, the question is what is to be gained from the government simply cracking its whip.'” – The Hankyoreh.

What do you think?

Will Google and the ROK continue their scuffle for long months to follow?  Or will one of them “tap out” before a longer fight takes place?  Is this the beginning of the end for Google in Korea?  Or just a stepping stone before Google claims the majority of the Internet market-share here too?

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