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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  1. 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.

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