To Avoid Government Surveillance, South Koreans Abandon Local Software And Flock To German Chat App

from the loss-of-trust dept

South Korea seems to have a rather complicated relationship with the Internet. On the one hand, the country is well-known for having the fastest Internet connection speeds in the world; on the other, its online users are subject to high levels of surveillance and control, as the site Bandwidth Place explains:
Under the watchful eye of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), Internet use, web page creation, and even mapping data are all regulated. As noted recently by the Malaysian Digest, children under 16 are not permitted to participate in online gaming between midnight and 6 a.m. -- accessing the Internet requires users to enter their government-issued ID numbers. In addition, South Korean map data isn't allowed to leave the country, meaning Google Maps can't provide driving directions, and last year the KCSC blocked users from accessing 63,000 web pages. While it's possible to get around these restrictions using a virtual private network (VPN), those found violating the nation’s Internet rules are subject to large fines or even jail time.
A story on the site of the Japanese broadcaster NHK shows how this is playing out in the world of social networks. Online criticism of the behavior of the President of South Korea following the sinking of the ferry MV Sewol prompted the government to set up a team to monitor online activity. That, in its turn, has led people to seek what the NHK article calls "cyber-asylum" -- online safety through the use of foreign mobile messaging services, which aren't spied on so easily by the South Korean authorities. According to the NHK article:
Many users have switched [from the hugely-popular home-grown product KakaoTalk] to a German chat app called Telegram. It had 50,000 users in early September. Now 2 million people have signed up.
That's a useful reminder that fast Internet speeds on their own are not enough to keep people happy, and that even companies holding 90% of a market, as Kakao does in South Korea, can suffer badly once they lose the trust of their users by seeming too pliable to government demands for private information about their customers.

This seems like the type of lesson that the giant US internet companies and the NSA (along with its defenders) should be learning.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: chat, kcsc, south korea, surveillance
Companies: kakaotalk, telegram


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2014 @ 2:45pm

    "the country is well-known for having the fastest Internet connection speeds in the world"

    South Korea has been well known for having very fast internet speeds within the country itself, but notoriously slow speeds to the rest of the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 17 Nov 2014 @ 3:12pm

    This seems like the type of lesson that the giant US internet companies and the NSA (along with its defenders) should be learning.


    The lesson they want to teach is that it is going to be like this everywhere (or anywhere that counts) so get used to it. Learning is for peons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2014 @ 3:25pm

    The US doesn't learn lessons from other countries.
    Our problems are the world's problems. The world's problems don't exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 17 Nov 2014 @ 4:01pm

    Never-ending story

    So now KCSC will need to ban the German Chat App. Then the people will switch to another app, and KCSC will need to ban that.

    Another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...another app, another ban...

    Infinite loop. KCSC will end by banning everything; just like all forms of censorship end by banning everything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Misha Springfield, 17 Nov 2014 @ 4:05pm

    Telegram is nice. I used to use WhatsApp as a substitute to text messaging, but when Facebook bought it, I (maybe like many others?) started looking for alternatives. At that time, Telegram was still relatively new, and the promises were convincing. What sucked is that most wouldn't switch away from WhatsApp. I managed to get a few close friends to use Telegram but that's it.

    In any case, the notion that circumventing Internet blockade and/or surveillance by using a VPN could give you large fines or even jail time seems preposterous for a country like South Korea. I remember using a VPNgate node hosted at someone's home server in Korea and encountered a roadblock at warning.or.kr. I don't speak Korean, but a quick search brought me to a English-speaking forum frequented by Koreans who'd long discussed such blockades.

    But punishing citizens for the use of VPNs -- which have a myriad of legitimate uses beyond just circumvention -- is taking it to the next level. Of course, there's no way to pre-determine what someone uses a VPN for, so it's going to inevitably be a "shoot first, ask later" approach.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2014 @ 4:52pm

    Open Source wins again

    > South Korean map data isn't allowed to leave the country

    https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=13/37.5512/126.9715

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Drizzt, 17 Nov 2014 @ 5:14pm

    Are you sure, that Telegram is German? I thought it came from the guys behind VK (the Russian Facebook). The German messenger, that's pretty popular, and I can think of right now, is Threema.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2014 @ 6:59pm

    However, if you use a VPN, how are they going to know what you are up to, since the connectin is encrypted, and many VPNs do not keep logs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2014 @ 7:05pm

    That must expalain why I am seeing a lot of "daisy chaning" of proxies going through my small public VPN. I see people coming onto my VPN, and then going out again through Tor, and vice versa.

    Since my VPN is hosted on a server in my apartment in Sacramento, Califonria, it is ONLY subject to AMERICAN laws. In other words, as long as what they do is legal in the United States, that is all that matters.

    My server is NOT SUBJECT to South Korean laws, even if South Koreans use my VPN to avoid government censoring of web sites there. My server is in the United States, so I ONLY recognise UNITED STATES laws on my server.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 17 Nov 2014 @ 7:48pm

    I hope there's a difference between the two.

    Many users have switched [from the hugely-popular home-grown product KakaoTalk] to a German chat app called Telegram. It had 50,000 users in early September. Now 2 million people have signed up.

    The censors and enforcers will of course follow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2014 @ 7:21am

    Remember the old saying. "The Internet views censorship as damage and routes around it."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Speed Test, 13 Dec 2014 @ 11:53am

    Speed Test

    Here is your broadband speed testing website: www.bestspeedtester.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Elise, 7 Jan 2015 @ 5:45am

    Privacy Is A Delusion Created By Them

    there is no real privacy, and never has been any real privacy, in our lives, not ever, like we thought we all had privacy in our lives, even as kids too, but even as kids, we were all being monitored then by the control freak master keepers, even then, as kids, or whatever. by the way: whenever our control freak master keepers want to experiment on us: done! mind control us: done! poison our foods: done! poison our minds: done! use bad military technology on us: done! have constant noise going on in the back ground: done! it does not matter if it's constant noise in the back ground, or using bad military technology on all of us, or poisoning our foods, or mind controlling us, or poisoning our minds, or experimenting on us all, whenever and where ever they want to, it's: done, done, done, and done! it is so done! they all just do it to us, whenever and where ever they choose to do it to all of us, because really, none of us, really matter to any of them........

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Keep calm, 21 May 2015 @ 9:14am

      Re: Privacy Is A Delusion Created By Them

      Yes, it is all one giant Conspiracy. If you are not being ironic, or cannot see the ridiculous amount of manic self righteous hyperbolic and poorly formed thoughts right now, please and I mean this with kindness seek s counselor and a basic reasoning course. Life is messy. Talking about many specific problems that are not related except in our minds where they all fall under the heading of invasion of privacy, censorship and any other activity that inpinges on free thinking and free communication creates the illusion via natural grammatical convention there is a cohesive coherent "we". There are bad actors and bad policies. But becoming hysterical to the point of reasoning like a middle schooler who also has a hopless attitude. Its like really? But time and time again I see youngens or porrly educated or those prone to un useful paranoia junp
      Off the deep end with meat heads that type up the literary equivalent of "we are doomed so let just jump off the building rant".
      I love tech dirt and the srvice they provide. I love many of its forum posters but self righteous manic and poorly reasoned rants make the website a joke and the forums harder to read. Take a breath and work on your conxeptual reasoning skills and see how grammar conventions lead to certain biases like they almighty ominous "They" and then things wuickly devolve into locked in us vs them thinking. See psychology classic experiments for that error and then realize oh shit that is why pink floyd did a meditative song on it 40 years ago. This is not news. In the US there has always been levels of both freedom, free communication, and there still will be because of sites like this a a population of people who demand it. Will thing become dicier in the digital era absolutely. But Elise? Fast food was not a planned health conspiracy our knowledge of humsn bio chemistry was in it's infancy in 1950. Early in WW two antibiotics were barely around. Again I say take a breath and if you hsve not been checked for bipolar affective disorder, just to be safe look into it. Lets all stay skeptical but also calm, even, and rational and if we are real luck lets sterr away from being self righteous. Anyone on this board ever try to take part carefully honestly govern a country full of people? Its pretty effn hard and Korea is super conservative and mildly xenophobic. As a friend of mine said the tech is from 2050 the social mores from 1950. This does not make them Orwell's nightmare. That said the government trying to control their people's digital devices is bad and dangerous omen that will back fire as it did. But let us keep things in perspective ok?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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